Duke historian John Hope Franklin dies at age 94

March 25, 2009 6:42:09 PM PDT
Duke University professor John Hope Franklin, a historian of life in the South and the African-American experience, has died. He was 94.Duke says Franklin died Wednesday morning of congestive heart failure at the university's hospital in Durham.

"John Hope Franklin, the son of the South, has always been a moral compass for America. Always pointing us in the direction of truth," offered former President Bill Clinton in a past interview with Eyewitness News about Franklin's contribution to America.

The educator and historian dedicated his life to teaching America's history and to writing dozens of books about her dark past - punctuated by slavery, and racism.

Born and raised in the all-black community of Rentiesville in Oklahoma in 1915, and often subjected to humiliating incidents of racism, Franklin broke numerous color barriers during his career.

He was the son of the town's only lawyer who was also a doctor, and he inherited his parent's affinity for high achievement. The young Franklin graduated Fisk University, and later Harvard with a graduate degree in history.

He was the first black department chair at a predominantly white institution and the first black president of the American Historical Association.

Franklin was also part of the team of scholars who assisted Thurgood Marshall to win Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark 1954 case that outlawed the doctrine of "separate but equal" in the nation's public schools.

"It's what I'm best known for - problems regarding race - but I regard myself as a historian of the south; and for the last 35 years I've taught nothing but the history of the south," said Franklin in a past interview with Eyewitness News.

After teaching at several institutions and serving on three committees by presidential appointment, Franklin took on a daunting task at the age of 82. By then retired as professor emeritus of history at Duke, Franklin was named to chair President Clinton's initiative on race relations - leading the administration's effort to tackle the lingering legacy of racism in America.

"If it were just slavery that was the problem, it might have ended with slavery, but the problem is much deeper than that. The problem is racial attitudes," said Franklin. "It's incumbent on all of us to ask himself whether his own attitude, his own actions and policies are in the best interest of the larger community - not just himself."

Dozens of leaders are commenting on Franklin's passing - among them President Barack Obama.

"Because of the life John Hope Franklin lived, the public service he rendered, and the scholarship that was the mark of his distinguished career, we all have a richer understanding of who we are as Americans and our journey as a people. Dr. Franklin will be deeply missed, but his legacy is one that will surely endure. Michelle and I send our thoughts and prayers to his loved ones, as our nation mourns his loss."

North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue also released a statement following Franklin's passing.

"John Hope Franklin was a tremendous leader, historian and friend to North Carolina and to the nation," said Perdue. "He personified giving and his work to advance the understanding of African-American contributions was unmatched by any other. He will be sadly missed."

To share your thoughts about Franklin or offer your condolences to the Franklin family visit www.duke.edu/johnhopefranklin.

To learn more about Franklin's life, visit some of these websites:

See also Franklin's 2008 YouTube interview on the Obama nomination:

Read more about Brown vs Board of Education

Franklin recounted the events of his long life in his autobiography "Mirror to America: The Autobiography of John Hope Franklin," which was published in 2005.


Load Comments