Warm, generous, compassionate, a giant among American historians,” is how one University of Chicago colleague of Dr. John Hope Franklin remembers him.
Dr. Neil Harris, the Preston and Sterling Morton Professor Emeritus at UChicago, where Franklin chaired the history department, said in a statement, “John Hope enjoyed people, and people enjoyed John Hope. Everything he did, from his cooking to his orchid growing, was extraordinary. Lucky indeed it was to know him and be put in touch with the energies and spirit of a great man.”
Ailing for some time, Franklin, the James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of History at Duke University, died March 25 of congestive heart failure at the age of 94 in Durham, N.C.
Called “a towering historian” by Duke University President Richard Brodhead, Franklin’s scholarship influenced countless scholars and students, and his humble, unassuming nature touched everyone he came in contact with.
Franklin’s scholarship is said to have increased the nation’s understanding and knowledge of African-Americans in its history. A prolific writer, Franklin’s numerous publications include the bestseller From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African-Americans, The Emancipation Proclamation, The Militant South and most recently Mirror to America, which chronicles his life.
“His book, From Slavery to Freedom, remains a vital classic and primer as an introduction to African-American history,” says Dr. Peniel Joseph, associate professor of Africana Studies at Brandeis University. “Dr. Franklin was that rare combination of exemplary scholar and engaged citizen who sought to promote history and multiculturalism to a larger public.”
A native of Oklahoma, Franklin earned his bachelor’s degree at Fisk University, where he would meet his wife, Aurelia. He would go on to earn a master’s and doctorate in history from Harvard University. Franklin taught at a number of institutions, including Fisk, St. Augustine’s College, North Carolina Central University, and Howard University. In 1956, he went to Brooklyn College where he would become the first Black historian to assume full professorship at a traditionally White institution. He also served as chairman of the Department of History. In 1964, he joined the faculty of UChicago, serving as chairman of the Department of History from 1967 to 1970. At the university, he was the John Matthews Manly Distinguished Service Professor from 1969 to 1982, when he became Professor Emeritus.
Franklin had long been a witness to and active participant in many historic events. From assisting Thurgood Marshall in his preparation for arguing Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 to heading former President Bill Clinton’s Initiative on Race in 1997, Franklin was quoted in Emerge magazine in 1994 as saying, “I think knowing one’s history leads one to act in a more enlightened fashion. I cannot imagine how knowing one’s history would not urge one to be an activist.”
Franklin’s contributions have been acknowledged with numerous awards and more than 130 honorary degrees. He treasured his students and the role of teacher.
Dr. Yohuru Williams, a history professor at Fairfield University and vice president for History Education at the American Institute for History Education, recalls, “He was a master teacher and his presence, guidance and scholarship will sorely be missed.” To pay tribute visit www.duke.edu/johnhopefranklin.
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