John Hope Franklin

John Hope Franklin

Franklin, John Hope, 1915-2009, the dean of 20th-century African-American historians, b. Rentiesville, Okla., grad. Fisk Univ. (A.B., 1935), Harvard (M.A., 1936; Ph.D., 1941). Franklin served on the faculties of his alma mater (1936-37), St. Augustine's College (1939-43), North Carolina College (1943-47), Howard Univ. (1947-56), Brooklyn College (1956-64), and the Univ. of Chicago (1964-82) before assuming (1982) the James B. Duke Professorship of History at Duke. He became professor emeritus in 1985, but taught at Duke's law school from 1985 to 1992. Franklin was also president of Phi Beta Kappa (1973-76), the American Historical Association (1978-79), and several other scholarly organizations.

Franklin's many publications focused on the history of the American South, on slavery and Reconstruction, and on the African-American contribution to the development of the United States. His best-known book, the pioneering From Slavery to Freedom (1947; 8th ed. 2000), revolutionized the understanding of African-American history and changed the way the subject is taught. Among Franklin's other works are The Militant South: 1800-1860 (1956), Reconstruction after the Civil War (1961), The Emancipation Proclamation (1963), Color and Race (1968), Racial Equality in America (1976), Race and History (1989), The Color Line (1993), and In Search of the Promised Land (with L. Schweninger, 2005). He also edited a number of books, including the autobiography (1997) of his father, an Oklahoma lawyer.

Active in the civil-rights movement, Franklin provided historical information vital to the brief for the landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kans. case, marched with Martin Luther King, and testified repeatedly at congressional hearings regarding racial issues. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1995 and was appointed President Clinton's adviser on race two years later. His papers form the nucleus of Duke's John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African-American Documentation.

See his autobiography, Mirror to America (2005).

John Hope Franklin (born January 2, 1915) is a United States historian and past president of the American Historical Association. Professor Emeritus of History at Duke University, he is best known for his work From Slavery to Freedom, first published in 1947, and continuously updated. More than three million copies have been sold. In 1995, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.


Franklin was born in Rentiesville, Oklahoma and named after John Hope. He graduated from Booker T. Washington High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He earned an undergraduate degree from Fisk University in 1935 and a doctorate in history in 1941 from Harvard University.

Franklin met and courted Aurelia Whittington at Fisk. They married on June 11, 1940 at her parent's home in Goldsboro, North Carolina. Their only child, John Whittington Franklin, was born August 24, 1952. Aurelia was a librarian. Their marriage lasted 59 years, until January 27, 1999 when she succumbed to a long illness.

"My challenge," Franklin says, "was to weave into the fabric of American history enough of the presence of blacks so that the story of the United States could be told adequately and fairly."

In the early 1950s, Franklin served on the NAACP Legal Defense Fund team led by Thurgood Marshall that helped develop the sociological case for Brown v. Board of Education. This led to the 1954 United States Supreme Court decision ending the legal segregation of black and white children in public schools.

Franklin's illustrious teaching career began at Fisk University and continued during World War II at St. Augustine's College and North Carolina College. From 1947 and 1956, he taught at Howard University. In 1956 Franklin was selected to chair the history department at Brooklyn College, the first person of color to head a major history department. Franklin served there until 1964, when he was recruited by the University of Chicago.

From 1964 through 1968, Franklin was a professor of history at the University of Chicago, and chair of the department from 1967-70. He was named to the endowed position of John Matthews Manly Distinguished Service Professor, which he held from 1969-82.

In 1983, Franklin was appointed the James B. Duke Professor of History at Duke University. In 1985, he took emeritus status. Franklin was also Professor of Legal History at the Duke University Law School from 1985-92.

He was appointed to the Fulbright Board of Foreign Scholarships, 1962-69, and was its chair from 1966-69.

Franklin was appointed to the U.S. Delegation to the UNESCO General Conference, Belgrade (1980).

The John Hope Franklin Collection for African and African-American Documentation resides at the Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library and contains his personal and professional papers. The archive is one of three academic units named after John Hope Franklin at Duke. The others are the John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary and International Studies and the Franklin Humanities Institute.

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David Levering Lewis said that while he was deciding to become a historian, news came that Franklin, his mentor, had been named departmental chairman at Brooklyn College. "Now that certainly is a distinction. It had never happened before that a person of color had chaired a major history department. That meant a lot to me. If I had doubt about (the) viability of a career in history, that example certainly help put to rest such concerns."

In researching his prize-winning biographies of W.E.B. Du Bois, Lewis said he became aware of Franklin's "courage during that period in the 1950s when Du Bois became an un-person, when many progressives were tarred and feathered with the brush of subversion. John Hope Franklin was a rock; he was loyal to his friends. In the case of W.E.B. Du Bois, Franklin spoke out in his defense, not (about) Du Bois' communism, but of the right of an intellectual to express ideas that were not popular. I find that admirable. It was a high risk to take and we may be heading again into a period when the free concourse of ideas in the academy will have a price put upon it. In the final years of an active teaching career, I will have John Hope Franklin's example of high scholarship, great courage and civic activism."

On May 20, 2006, Franklin was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters at Lafayette College's 171st Commencement Exercises.

On November 15, 2006, John Hope Franklin was announced as the third recipient of the John W. Kluge Prize for lifetime achievement in the study of humanity. He shared the prize with Yu Ying-shih.

Public service

Franklin has served as president of the American Historical Association (1979), the American Studies Association (1967), the Southern Historical Association (1970), the United Chapters of Phi Beta Kappa (1973-76), and the Organization of American Historians (1975). He has been a member of the board of trustees at Fisk University, the Chicago Public Library, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association.

Franklin has been appointed to serve on national commissions including the National Council of the Humanities, the President's Advisory Commission on Ambassadorial Appointments, and One America: The President's Initiative on Race.

Franklin is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, the first intercollegiate Greek-letter fraternity established for African Americans. He was an early beneficiary of the fraternity's Foundation Publishers which provides financial support and fellowship for writers addressing African American issues since it was established in 1933.

Franklin endorsed presidential candidate Barack Obama.

Books by John Hope Franklin (Partial List)

  • The Free Negro in North Carolina, 1790-1860, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1943, 1995.
  • The Diary of James T. Ayers, Civil War recruiter ed., with introd., by John Franklin. Springfield; State of Illinois, 1947.
  • From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans, 1st ed. New York: A.A. Knopf, 1947. Last update with Alfred Moss, 8th ed. McGraw-Hill Education, 2000, ISBN 0-07-112058-0
  • The Militant South, 1800-1861. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1956; 1st Illinois pbk. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2002.
  • Reconstruction: after the Civil War. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961.
  • The Emancipation proclamation. 1st ed. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1963; 2nd ed. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1993.
  • Land of the free; a history of the United States, by John W. Caughey, John Hope Franklin and Ernest R. May. Educational advisers: Richard M. Clowes and Alfred T. Clark, Jr. Rev. New York: Benziger Bros., 1966.
  • The Negro in Twentieth Century America: A Reader on the Struggle for Civil Rights, by John Hope Franklin & Isidore Starr. New York: Vintage Books, 1967.
  • Color and race. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1968.
  • The Historian and Public Policy, by John Hope Franklin. Chicago: University of Chicago, Center for Policy Study, c1974.
  • Racial Equality in America, by John Hope Franklin. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, c1976.
  • A Southern Odyssey: Travelers in the Antebellum North. by John Hope Franklin. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, c1976.
  • Black Leaders of the Twentieth Century, edited by John Hope Franklin and August Meier. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, c1982.
  • George Washington Williams: a Biography, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985; Reprint, Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1998.
  • Race and History: Selected Essays 1938-1988, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, c1989.
  • The Facts of Reconstruction: Essays in Honor of John Hope Franklin, edited by Eric Anderson & Alfred A. Moss, Jr. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, c1991.
  • The Color Line: Legacy for the Twenty-first Century, John Hope Franklin. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, c1993.
  • Racial Equality in America, by John Hope Franklin. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1993.
  • My Life and an Era: the Autobiography of Buck Colbert Franklin, edited by John Hope Franklin and John Whittington Franklin. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, c1997, 2000.
  • Runaway Slaves: Rebels on the Plantation, John Hope Franklin, Loren Schweninger. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
  • Mirror to America The Autobiography of John Hope Franklin. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2005, ISBN 0-374-29944-7


  • Paul Finkelman, "John Hope Franklin," in Robert Allen Rutland, ed. Clio's Favorites: Leading Historians of the United States, 1945-2000 University of Missouri Press. (2000) pp 49-67

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