John Hope Franklin (January 2, 1915 – March 25, 2009) was an American historian of the United States and former president of Phi Beta Kappa, the Organization of American Historians, the American Historical Association, and the Southern Historical Association. Franklin is best known for his work From Slavery to Freedom, first published in 1947, and continually updated. More than three million copies have been sold. In 1995, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
Franklin was born in Rentiesville, Oklahoma in 1915 to attorney Buck (Charles) Colbert Franklin (1879-1957) and his wife Mollie (Parker) Franklin. He was named after John Hope, a prominent educator who was the first African-American president of Atlanta University.
Franklin’s father Buck Colbert Franklin was a civil rights lawyer, aka “Amazing Buck Franklin.” He was of African-American and Choctaw ancestry and born in the Chickasaw Nation in western Indian Territory (formerly Pickens County). He was the seventh of ten children born to David and Milley Franklin. David was a former slave, who became a Chickasaw Freedman when emancipated after the American Civil War. Milley was born free before the war and was of one-fourth Choctaw and three-fourths African-American ancestry. Buck Franklin became a lawyer.
Buck Franklin is best known for defending African-American survivors of the 1921 Tulsa race riot, in which whites had attacked many blacks and buildings, and burned and destroyed the Greenwood District. This was known at the time as the “Black Wall Street”, and was the wealthiest Black community in the United States, a center of black commerce and culture. Franklin and his colleagues also became experts at oil law, representing “blacks and Native Americans in Oklahoma against white lawyers representing oil barons.” His career demonstrated a strong professional black life in the West, at a time when such accomplishments would have been more difficult to achieve in the Deep South.
John Hope Franklin graduated from Booker T. Washington High School (then segregated) in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He graduated in 1935 from Fisk University, a historically black university in Nashville, Tennessee, then earned a master’s in 1936 and a doctorate in history in 1941 from Harvard University.
In his autobiography, Franklin has described a series of formative incidents in which he confronted racism while seeking to volunteer his services at the beginning of the Second World War. He responded to the navy’s search for qualified clerical workers, but after he presented his extensive qualifications, the navy recruiter told him that he was the wrong color for the position. He was similarly unsuccessful in finding a position with a War Department historical project. When he went to have a blood test, as required for the draft, the doctor initially refused to allow him into his office. Afterward, Franklin took steps to avoid the draft, on the basis that the country did not respect him or have an interest in his well-being, because of his color.
In the early 1950s, Franklin served on the NAACP Legal Defense Fund team led by Thurgood Marshall, and helped develop the sociological case for Brown v. Board of Education. This case, challenging de jure segregated education in the South, was taken to the United States Supreme Court. It ruled in 1954 that the legal segregation of black and white children in public schools was unconstitutional, leading to integration of schools.
Racial Equality in America is the published lecture series that Franklin presented in 1976 for the Jefferson Lecture sponsored by the National Endowment for Humanities. The book is composed of three lectures, given in three different cities, in which Franklin chronicled the history of race in the United States from revolutionary times to 1976. These lectures explore the differences between some of the beliefs related to race with the reality documented in various historical and government texts, as well as data gathered from census, property, and literary sources. The first lecture is titled “The Dream Deferred” and discusses the period from the Revolution to 1820. The second lecture is titled “The Old Order Changeth Not” and discusses the rest of the 19th century. The third lecture is titled “Equality Indivisible” and discusses the 20th century.
Photo: University of North Carolina0