Special Alert

John Hope Franklin Profile

John Hope Franklin Interior Header

(Photo courtesy of Duke University Archives) 

There are many African-American leaders who have left an indelible mark on Durham, and John Hope Franklin is certainly one of them. Dr. Franklin was a much-loved and respected scholar, historian, activist, and Durham resident until his death in 2009. Because 2015 is the 100th anniversary of Dr. Franklin's birth, many are taking the time to reflect on his legacy.

For instance, John Gartrell, director of the John Hope Franklin Research Center, describes Dr. Franklin's lasting influence with clear reverence:

"Throughout his life, Dr. Franklin cemented his legacy as a transcendent scholar and teacher of history, lending particular expertise on the role African Americans played in American and even world history. He remains one of the most beloved figures of recent memory and is revered for his dignified deportment and ability to connect with everyone he met."

Steve Channing, a Museum of Durham History board member, further demonstrates Dr. Franklin's ability to better the lives of those around him:

"John Hope Franklin was my teacher, friend and valued advisor for 49 years. He was a pioneer in so many ways, writing what is still the authoritative history of the black experience, From Slavery to Freedom: A History of American Negroes, as well as many other important studies."

Dr. Franklin's significance stems from decades of work as a historian and professor. Born in Oklahoma to a teacher and a lawyer, Dr. Franklin attended Fisk University before completing his PhD in history at Harvard University. Two years later, Dr. Franklin made his first connection to Durham, taking a professorship at North Carolina Central University (then called the North Carolina College for Negroes). After stints at Brooklyn College, where Franklin became the first African-American to chair a major history department, and the University of Chicago, where Dr. Franklin again acted as chair, Dr. Franklin returned to Durham in 1983 to accept a position as the James B. Duke Professor of History at Duke University. Two years later, he was honored with emeritus status. 

Dr. Franklin's impact wasn't limited to academia either. The John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary and International Studies, another center committed to continuing Dr. Franklin's work, explains, "Through his published work, he brought needed attention to some of our country's bleakest chapters. As a distinguished scholar, he has used his authority and expertise to foster political and social change." To that end, Dr. Franklin joined the NAACP Legal Defense team to assist with the Brown v. Board of Education trial and participated in seminal civil rights protests, like the march from Selma to Montgomery, as shown in a picture compiled in an exhibit about Dr. Franklin's life for the Duke Libraries.

Dr. Franklin's work for justice, especially racial justice, has made its mark on the country, leading to yet another center founded in his honor: the John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation in his childhood home of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Channing quotes Bill Clinton to explain Dr. Franklin's advocacy work, saying, "[Dr. Franklin] was both an angry, happy man, and a happy, angry man, who fought for justice and truthful, inclusive accounts of our nation's troubled and inspiring history."

But, as Gartrell explains, "Dr. John Hope Franklin's relationship with Durham is indeed a special one. He wrote his most well-known work, From Slavery to Freedom, while teaching at North Carolina Central University." Dr. Franklin also bettered Durham through his work. For example, he helped found the Durham Literacy Center, which continues to impact the community by improving literacy. For his work as a scholar and activist, Dr. Franklin was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1995.

AAH Contemporaries

Contemporary Contributions

Durham's past and present have been shaped by the contributions of black leaders. Learn about a few of the people making a difference today. Read More


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