John Hope Franklin: Our ‘Most Important Historical Scholar of the 20th Century’

We lost a pillar of Black America this week. Professor John Hope Franklin died Wednesday of congestive heart failure at the age of 94. Best known for landmark book, “From Slavery to Freedom”,which remains as relevant today as it was 60 years ago when first published, Professor Franklin was not just the consummate historian and scholar, with a “shining intellect”*; he was a lovely man who was the embodiment of grace and dignity.

Professor Franklin was born in a segregated Oklahoma. Through his long life of scholarship and service, he broke down and broke through the many racial barriers plaguing the country. He was instrumental in bringing an integrated American history, which included the Black contribution and experience, into the national conscious. His book sold more than 3.5 million copies and remains required reading in today’s college classrooms. Ironically, he chronicled the history of the Black experience, all the while encountering its insidious legacy while researching in libraries and institutions that restricted his access because of his color. As Tim Tyson, history professor at Duke, points out: “He was working in a profession that more or less banned him at the outset and ended up its leading practitioner,” “And yet, he always managed to keep his grace and his sense of humor.”

He contributed his research and advice to the Brown v. Board of Education win, which brought about the demise of the nation’s “separate but equal” doctrine in public schools. Franklin said that his involvement in the case was “exhilarating” because of how much Thurgood Marshall and his team relied on his historical input.

Professor Franklin was the first Black to chair a department at a predominantly White university, Brooklyn College’s history department. He was the first Black to hold an endowed chair at Duke. And he was the first Black president of the American Historical Association.

I am so sorry that he is no longer with us. But I am pleased that I was able to meet Professor Franklin and I am happy that he was able to see our first Black President take office. President Obama has said: “Because of the life John Hope Franklin lived, the public service he rendered, and the scholarship that was the mark of his distinguished career, we all have a richer understanding of who we are as Americans and our journey as a people. Dr. Franklin will be deeply missed, but his legacy is one that will surely endure.”

*Information and quotes obtained from The Associated Press article by Martha Waggoner.

For More Information: John Hope Franklin’s Website


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