John Hope Franklin was one of the leading historians of his time and credited with forging paths that would spark the rise of African American studies. The late educator and Southern history expert was born on this day, and we take a look back at his life and career.
Franklin was born in 1915 in Rentiesville, Oklahoma to Buck Franklin, a civil rights lawyer, and his schoolteacher mother, Mollie Franklin. As a boy, Franklin narrowly missed the happenings of the Tulsa Race Riots that destroyed the “Black Wall Street” neighborhood of Greewood in 1921. His father worked successfully to defend the Black residents of Tulsa against the city after it attempted to stop them from rebuilding what was lost.
The lessons and experiences of his parents never strayed far from Franklin, and he initially wanted to become a lawyer like his father. After leaving Fisk University in 1935, Franklin had since shifted his focus onto history and entered Harvard University where he earned a master’s and Ph. D in history in 1936 and 1941 respectively.
Considering the times, Franklin faced racism and bigotry and nearly every turn despite his impressive credentials, especially during World War II. Because of his race, the U.S. Navy wouldn’t let him perform clerical work, and a history project for the War Department refused his services. He was also denied entry to take a blood test for the draft because the offices wouldn’t admit him, which moved Franklin to avoid it altogether.
Franklin taught at several schools, including Fisk, Howard University, and Brooklyn College. In the midst of his teaching career, Franklin wrote several books but perhaps his best known work is “From Slavery To Freedom: A History Of African Americans” first published in 1947. Some experts say the book laid the ground work for Af-Am studies.
After serving as a professor of history at Duke University, the school eventually honored Franklin by naming its African and African American History and Culture center after him.
Franklin passed in 2009 at the age of 94, but worked to the end in his field. He amassed several honors over the course of his long career, including the Presidential Medial of Freedom in 1995.
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