John Hope Franklin

by Kieran Healy on March 25, 2009

The historian John Hope Franklin has died at the age of 94. The Post’s Obituary notes, inter alia,

In 1985, Franklin was in New York to receive the Clarence Holte Literary Award for his biography of historian George Washington Williams, a 40-year project for which he was a runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize. The next morning, he and his wife were unable to hail a taxi in front of their hotel. Ten years later, when he was to receive the [Presidential Medal of Freedom], Franklin hosted a party for some friends at Washington’s Cosmos Club, of which he had long been a member. A white woman walked up to him, handed him a slip of paper and demanded that he get her coat. He politely told the woman that any of the uniformed attendants, “and they were all in uniform,” would be happy to assist her.

Here is From Slavery to Freedom.



Es-tonea-pesta 03.26.09 at 2:56 am

No cab driver would stop for a 70-year-old man and wife?


Witt 03.26.09 at 3:13 am

Oddly enough, the current version (10:15 p.m. EDT) of the AP obituary, posted at the Washington Post link in the original post, omits the taxi anecdote.

I don’t have any trouble believing it’s true, though.


andrew 03.26.09 at 4:52 am

From Franklin’s 1988 Charles Homer Haskins lecture (pdf):

It was necessary, as a black historian, to have a personal agenda, as well as one dealing with more general matters, that involved a type of activism. I discovered this in the spring of 1939 when I arrived in Raleigh, North Carolina, to do research in the state archives, only to be informed by the director that in planning the building the architects did not anticipate that any Afro-Americans would be doing research there. Perhaps it was the astonishment that the director, a Yale Ph.D. in history, saw in my face that prompted him to make a proposition. If I would wait a week he would make some arrangements. When I remained silent, registering a profound disbelief, he cut the time in half. I waited from Monday to Thursday, and upon my return to the archives I was escorted to a small room outfitted with a table and chair which was to be my private office for the next four years. (I hasten to explain that it did not take four years to complete my dissertation. I completed it the following year, but continued to do research there as long as I was teaching at St. Augustine’s College.) The director also presented me with keys to the manuscript collection to avoid requiring the white assistants to deliver manuscripts to me. That arrangement lasted only two weeks, when the white researchers, protesting discrimination, demanded keys to the manuscript collection for themselves. Rather than comply with their demands, the director relieved me of my keys and ordered the assistants to serve me.


Barry Freed 03.26.09 at 5:15 am

Tavis Smiley aired some old interviews with Prof Franklin tonight. The show will replay on PBS Thusday at 1pm EST.


Ben Alpers 03.26.09 at 2:41 pm

A great man, a great historian, and a great Oklahoman. We adoptive Sooners need all the inspiration we can find!


Paul 03.26.09 at 2:54 pm

John Hope Franklin was a fine historian and an even better human being. I always enjoyed listening to his perspective on American History.He will be missed !


rm 03.26.09 at 3:53 pm

These days I usually think scholarship doesn’t matter, and that our jobs are meaningless except to the extent we help a few students. This is a reminder that I am wrong. What an important, well-lived life.


dr ngo 03.26.09 at 11:59 pm

The first time we visited Durham (in search of a possible retirement home) our friend/hostess, a young African-American lawyer, drove us all over town, then out for dinner at Nana’s. (We paid – at least I hope we did.) Afterwards we drove about half a mile to the house where her little girl was being babysat. And then our friend said, “Would you like to come in and meet Dr. Franklin?” So we did. (It was actually his grown daughter who was doing the babysitting.)

Dr. Franklin was very gracious, and showed us some of his memorabilia, as well as the page proofs of his autobiography. I was impressed by what he had done (as witnessed by the photos and documents around the place) as well as the relative modesty of his circumstances. As for the man himself – I have rarely met anyone more dignified, yet accessible. A great loss to this town, as well as the country and the world.


Jai 03.27.09 at 2:45 pm

Witt – if interested, pick up his last book, “Mirror to America: The Autobiography of John Hope Franklin.” I listened to it on tape last summer and it is very good.


grace 03.27.09 at 4:48 pm

This morning, NPR aired a powerful story that John Hope Franklin recorded with StoryCorps about his experience as a Boy Scout in the 1920s. Please take a listen here:



marrin 03.30.09 at 4:18 pm

At Harvard I was introduced to his work by a friend who had attended Lincoln U. It opened up the American story in ways previously denied to me in the schools of the 50’s and 60’s. I regard him as an intellectual hero of our country.

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