John Hope Franklin, an American historian revered for his lifetime work of bringing the history of African Americans into focus and context, died March 25 at age 94. He was a winner of the Library’s Kluge Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Study of Humanity. (See Information Bulletin, January/February 2007.)
Franklin—a resident of Durham, N.C., in recent years—was known not only for his ground-breaking effort to advance African Americans in academics but also for his role as an activist-researcher in support of Thurgood Marshall’s legal team in the seminal case Brown v. Board of Education. His death was news nationwide.
Franklin was a winner in 2006 of the Kluge Prize for his lifetime study and teaching of African-American history. Yet that honor was only one of his longtime associations with the Library, which he graced with periodic lectures and other appearances, including a book talk in November 2005 about his autobiography, “Mirror to America: The Autobiography of John Hope Franklin.”
“The transformation he has helped bring about in how we think about American history and society will stand as his lasting intellectual legacy,” said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington when Franklin was named a winner of the Kluge Prize in 2006.
Franklin acted to change the history of the United States throughout the 20th century, in part through his authorship or editing of 17 books. Much of the research for his autobiography occurred in 2001, while he was a distinguished senior visiting scholar at the Library’s Kluge Center.
Franklin graduated from Fisk University in 1935 and received his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1941. After teaching at several institutions, including Howard University, in 1956 he went to Brooklyn College as chairman of the Department of History, the first such appointment of an African American in the country.
In 1964, he joined the faculty of the University of Chicago, serving as chairman of the Department of History from 1967 to 1970. He completed his academic career at Duke University as the James B. Duke Professor of History and for seven years served as a professor of legal history.
In 1953, Franklin helped Thurgood Marshall and the Legal Defense Fund successfully argue Brown v. Board of Education before the U.S. Supreme Court, which struck down the “separate but equal” doctrine and required the desegregation of schools across America.
For interventions against American racism, for his academic achievements and for numerous acts of public service, Franklin received honors including the Jefferson Medal (1984), the Charles Frankel Prize for contributions to the humanities (1993), and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1995. He was awarded honorary degrees from more than 130 colleges and universities.
Several offerings about John Hope Franklin are available on the Library of Congress website, including background, his remarks and a webcast of the ceremony when he received the 2006 Kluge Prize at www.loc.gov/loc/kluge/prize/winners.html; a piece in the Information Bulletin titled “Democracy: A Work in Progress” at www.loc.gov/loc/lcib/0704/franklin.html; and a podcast of his presentation at the 2006 National Book Festival at www.loc.gov/bookfest/2006/pod/franklinpod.html.