John Hope Franklin, American historian, Died at 94

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Dead, John Hope Franklin on March 25, 2009 at the age of 94, he 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.

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.

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.

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 colour 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 colour.

In 1947, with Alfred A. Knopf’s publishing house, Franklin released From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African-Americans, a seminal text on black history that would become globally distributed, selling millions of copies.

It is credited as paving the way for the creation of African-American studies as a discipline, while Franklin has maintained that he has always been a historian of the South as opposed to solely dealing with race.

Franklin started teaching at alma mater Fisk in the mid-1930s and went on to hold faculty positions at a number of institutions, including Harvard, Howard University, New York University, Cambridge University, and Duke University Law School.

Among an array of firsts, 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.

He was also the first African-American leader of the American Historical Association.


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