'There's No Glass Ceiling for People Who Are Good'

Article excerpt


John Hope Franklin, 94

Author and Historian

Born into a world of segregation and a history of race written by whites, Franklin made himself into a great public intellectual-- a bespoke black historian who put African-Americans on even ground in the national story. His research during Brown v. Board of Education helped desegregate the nation's schools, while his bestselling work "From Slavery to Freedom," now in its eighth edition, forever muscled aside racist portrayals of the black South. A graduate of Fisk and Harvard universities, he won enough honors for two lifetimes, including a Presidential Medal of Freedom. He died in Durham, N.C., where he was a distinguished professor at Duke. David Levering-Lewis, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian whom Franklin mentored, shared these memories with NEWSWEEK's Tony Dokoupil:

I heard about John long before I met him. As an undergraduate at Fisk, in fact, it was impossible not to hear about the great "John Hope," as he was universally known. At beer- and cigarette-soaked gatherings of the history department, his old mentor Theodore Currier would say, "You know"--cue a long, contemplative drag--"there really is no glass ceiling for people who are good." Which would launch a mini-lecture on John's many virtues, the biggest of which was apparently that he chose history over law. Currier was so pleased that he took out a $500 loan--big bucks in 1935--to help John pay for Harvard.

I first met John a few years later, after I had dropped out of Michigan law school, hopped a bus to New York and talked my way into Columbia's history department. There I saw a front-page headline in The New York Times: NEGRO EDUCATOR TO HEAD DEPARTMENT IN BROOKLYN COLLEGE. …