John Hope Franklin’s pioneering and varied scholarly work transformed our thinking about American history and society and established African American history as an important area of academic study and popular understanding. Long before the “agency” of ordinary people became a touchstone of historical writing, Franklin demonstrated that black Americans were active agents in shaping their own and the nation’s history. His studies unearthed numerous long-neglected yet indisputably essential parts of the American past. Taken together, they made the point that no account of American history could be complete if it did not afford a key place to the conditions and struggles of black Americans.
More than simply making up for past neglect, his books challenged historians to rethink how they conceptualized American history as a whole. During his 70-year academic career, Franklin taught at a wide range of universities; played an influential role with organizations such as the Fulbright Board of Foreign Scholarships, the National Council of the Humanities, and the U.S. Delegation to UNESCO; and was an active scholar and demonstrator in the civil rights movement. In 1997, President Bill Clinton appointed Franklin as Chairman of the Advisory Board of “One America in the 21st Century,” a national initiative to encourage dialogue on issues of race.
A native of Oklahoma and a graduate of Fisk University, Franklin received his Ph.D. in history from Harvard University. He taught at a number of institutions, including Fisk University, St. Augustine’s College, North Carolina Central University, and Howard University. In 1956 he was appointed Chair of Brooklyn College’s Department of History in 1956, becoming the first black scholar to be appointed department head at a mostly white college. In 1964, he joined the faculty of the University of Chicago, serving as Chair of the Department of History from 1967 to 1970. He finished his career as the James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of History at Duke University and the John Matthews Manly Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Chicago.
Franklin authored 17 books including the groundbreaking “From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans” (1947), which sold more than three million copies. The seminal text is credited with legitimating African American studies as a historical discipline. Franklin’s comprehensive and scholarly survey of the African American experience from the slave trade through the struggle for racial equality transformed understandings of major social phenomena in America and empowered a wide range of alternate histories of other ethnic and minority groups that are now common.
In addition to observing and righting about the civil rights movement, Franklin was also an active participant. In 1953 he helped Thurgood Marshall and the Legal Defense Fund successfully reargue 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 in America. A decade later, Dr. Franklin joined the march on Selma, Alabama, led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Franklin received many honors throughout his life, including the Jefferson Medal (1984), the Charles Frankel Prize for contributions to the humanities (1993) and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1995). He received honorary degrees from more than 130 colleges and universities. In 1997 President Bill Clinton appointed him as chair of the President’s Initiative on Race.
Franklin passed away on March 25, 2009.
John Hope Franklin’s pioneering work established African American history as an important area of academic study and popular understanding. His contributions ranged from scholarly monographs to works of history, textbooks, and biographies. Long before the “agency” of ordinary people became a touchstone of historical writing, Franklin demonstrated that black Americans were active agents in shaping their own and the nation’s history. His studies unearthed numerous long-neglected yet indisputably essential parts of the American past. Taken together, they made the point that no account of American history could be complete if it did not afford a key place to the conditions and struggles of black Americans.
“Dr. Franklin is the leading scholar in the establishment of African-American history as a key area in the professional study of American history in the second half of the 20th century. The transformation he has helped bring about in how we think about American history and society will stand as his lasting intellectual legacy.”
—Librarian of Congress James H. Billington
- Two History Scholars Are to Split $1 Million Award External
The New York Times – Nov. 15, 2006
- Library of Congress Honors Two Historians With Kluge Prize External
The Washington Post – Nov. 15, 2006
1915, Rentiesville, Oklahoma
2009, Durham, North Carolina
- Professor, Fisk University
- Chair, History Department, Brooklyn College
- Professor, Howard University
- John Matthews Manley Professorship, University of Chicago
- James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of History, Duke University
December 5, 2006
Yu, Hope Franklin Share Kluge Prize
(Nov. 15, 2006)
- “The Free Negro in North Carolina, 1790-1860” (1943)
- “From Slavery to Freedom: A History of American Negroes” (1947)
- “Reconstruction: After the Civil War” (1961)
- “Color and Race” (1968)
- “Racial Equality in America” (1976)
- “The Color Line: Legacy for the Twenty-first Century” (1993)
- “Mirror to America: The Autobiography of John Hope Franklin” (2005)
- “John Hope Franklin: Where Do We Go from Here?” (Mar. 6, 2007)
- “Mirror to America: The Autobiography of John Hope Franklin” (Nov. 1, 2005)
- “John Hope Franklin – 2006 National Book Festival” (Sept. 30, 2006)
- “Mirror to America: John Hope Franklin on His Distinguished Life” (Library of Congress Information Bulletin, Nov./Dec. 2005)
- Conversation: “Brown v. Board of Education”
- “Remembering Vintage Years: John Hope Franklin Discusses His Life and Career” (Library of Congress Information Bulletin, Oct. 2001)
- John Hope Franklin: Distinguished Visiting Scholar at the Kluge Center (2001)