Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: John Hope Franklin

Thursday, March 26, 2009

John Hope Franklin

Dr. John Hope Franklin, one of the architects of black history studies, died on Wednesday night. When I took a black history course nearly thirty years ago, we used Dr. Franklin's text, From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African-Americans. He'd published the first edition of it more than thirty years prior to that. (I've still got my copy around here somewhere.) Dr. Franklin was 94 years old, which means that he was born before the United States entered World War I. His grandparents had been slaves, and he lived through some of the worst of Jim Crow America. Walter Dellinger, a Constitutional lawyer who taught beside Dr. Franklin at Duke University, has a lovely remembrance in The Washington Post. You should go and read the whole thing, but this is a nice overview of some of his most important accomplishments:

He worked on a crucial brief for Brown v. Board of Education, he marched in Selma, he lectured all over the world and he taught all of America to see through his uncompromising eye. But it was not just what he did but how he did it that marked his greatness. He understood that the public good was not merely a set of substantive outcomes; it is also defined by how we go about reconciling our competing visions of that public good. It is about how we view one another when we peer across the great divides of policy, preference, political party and personhood. John Hope Franklin looked at those who opposed him and saw fellow human beings.

President Obama issued a statement saying:

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.

It is certainly meaningful that Dr. Franklin was able to live through the first two months of the Obama presidency. The Charlotte Observer helpfully posted a video of Dr. Franklin's reaction to that momentous occasion on the Website.

Goodbye, Dr. Franklin. You've earned your rest.


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