John Hope Franklin Dead at Age 94

Historian traced African American history from slavery to presidency

0325_jphJohn Hope Franklin, a chronicler of history who also shaped it, died this morning from congestive heart failure. He was 94 years old.

“John Hope Franklin lived for nearly a century and helped define that century,” said Duke President Richard H. Brodhead. “A towering historian, he led the recognition that African-American history and American history are one.”

In 1947, Franklin wrote “From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African-Americans,” his seminal work that is often touted as the foremost work in African American history. His research for the book led him to segregated libraries and archives at universities that wouldn’t even allow him to use the bathroom. One such place, Duke University, later opened the John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary and International Studies in 2001.

“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,” said President Barack Obama in a statement. “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.”

Franklin, a Fisk and Harvard University alumnus worked on the Brown v. Board of Education case and headed former President Bill Clinton’s 1997 national task force on race. Clinton awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

In 2007, Franklin returned to Oklahoma to testify in a hearing urging Congress to pass legislation that would allow survivors of the Tulsa race riots to sue for reparations. The riots left 300 black residents dead or missing and scattered 10,000 other black Tulsan’s across the country. Franklin’s family was displaced in 1921 when their home and his father, Buck Colbert Franklin’s law practice were burned in the riots.

“I’ve lost a great mentor and a friend,” says Harvard Law School professor Charles Ogletree, who led the Tulsa reparations case. “There is no one who has been more thorough and persuasive in tracing the history of African American’s struggle and progress over the last several decades. He lived a long and glorious life but losing him is no easy task.”

“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, ” said President Barack Obama in a statement.

In a Duke University Interview last June, though he never thought that it would happen in his lifetime, Franklin said the possibility of America’s first Black president was an indication of the “willingness of this country to turn a significant corner.”

“I am glad that he was both alive and well to see the election of Barack Obama to president of the United States. It reaffirms his own belief that when given the opportunity to perform in an equal and unobstructed society we all can exceed at the highest levels.”

A memorial service is planned for Franklin and his wife Arelia Franklin who proceeded him in death at Duke University Memorial Chapel on June 11.

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