John Hope Franklin’s pioneering work established African American history as an important area of academic study and popular understanding. His contributions ranged across the genres of non-fiction writing, from scholarly monographs to works of history intended for a non-academic public, to a textbook, a biography, and an autobiography. Long before the “agency” of ordinary people became a touchstone of historical writing, Franklin demonstrated that blacks 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
The New York Times - Nov. 15, 2006
- Library of Congress Honors Two Historians With Kluge Prize
The Washington Post - Nov. 15, 2006
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 blacks 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 discourse 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 went to Brooklyn College as Chairman of the Department of History. He became chair of Brooklyn College's history department in 1956, thus making him 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 Chairman 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” (Knopf, 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 common in today’s times.
Franklin also participated actively in the Civil Rights movement in addition to observing it. 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 William Jefferson Clinton appointed him as chair of the President's Initiative on Race.
Franklin passed away on March 25, 2009.
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)
- “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