The Late Great John Hope Franklin

The eminent historian John Hope Franklin died yesterday.

I need to take a moment to recognize this important thought leader.

His most popular book, From Slavery to Freedom, has sold over 3 million copies since it was first published in 1947.


He lived his whole life in the United States and died at 94. You can look at his picture and correctly assume he faced his share of racism in his life. He probably had enough anecdotes about the overt discrimination he faced to fill a book, but this one is my “favorite”:

In 1995, Franklin received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Bill Clinton. As part of the festivities, the Cosmos Club held a dinner in his honor. That night, a white woman saw him and assumed he was the coat check guy. She got indignant when he didn’t take her coat. Franklin was the first black member of the club, so I guess we can’t be too mad at her.

He is also a proud initiate of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., was the first black person to chair a history department at a white university, and served as president of the American Historical Association.

He did as much as anyone in America to paint an accurate historical picture of black people in America.

“My challenge,” Franklin said, “was to weave into the fabric of American history enough of the presence of blacks so that the story of the United States could be told adequately and fairly.”

Well done, Dr. Franklin, well done.


2 responses to “The Late Great John Hope Franklin

  1. @ Seth -“That night, a white woman saw him and assumed he was the coat check guy. She got indignant when he didn’t take her coat. ”

    – Typical.
    God, people are just so clueless.

    Never heard of the man ’til now, but thanks for drawing my attention to him.

  2. Or, there was the time when Franklin was a kid, a newly minted Cub Scout. He was scouring the streets looking for a good deed to perform. Soon enough, he spotted an old lady feeling for the curb with a long white cane–obviously blind. He sprung into action: “Mam, may I help you across the street?” She was relieved to get the help, he was glad to give it. Everyone’s happy. They start across, and they’re talking. Soon enough she asks: “Young man, are you white or colored (it’s the 1930s)?”

    “I’m colored.”

    “Get you filthy hands off of me!”

    The absurdity of that account always stuck with him. When he visited a StoryCorps booth 4 months before his death, he could have talked about anything, but he retold that story.

    That’s a lesson for all of us. Black people can be just as closed-minded sometimes. John Hope Franklin lived to shed light on ignorance wherever it reared its head.

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