Acclaimed Historian: John Hope Franklin Almost Chose Another Career

By Roberts, Crystal Kimpson | Diversity Employers, February 2000 | Go to article overview

Acclaimed Historian: John Hope Franklin Almost Chose Another Career


Roberts, Crystal Kimpson, Diversity Employers


Dr. John Hope Franklin, who has become one of the nation's foremost historians in African-American history, hasn't always been interested in history, yet the 85-year-old scholar has become world renowned for his research and published works of it. His best known book is From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans, is now in its seventh edition and translated into several languages, and his most current research publication is entitled, Dissidents on the Plantation: Runaway Slaves.

Most recently, the James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of History was chosen by President William Jefferson Clinton to serve as the chairman of the Advisory Board for "One America: The President's Initiative on Race." For seven years, he was professor of Legal History in the Law School at Duke University. The Oklahoma native is a graduate of Fisk University and received his master's and doctorate degrees in history from Harvard University. He has taught at a number of institutions, including Fisk University, St. Augustine's College, North Carolina Central University, and Howard University. He was selected in 1978 by Who's Who in America as one of eight Americans who have made significant contributions to society.

He also has been elected to the Oklahoma Hall of Fame, has received the Jefferson Medal for 1984 awarded by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, and received the Encyclopedia Britannica Gold Medal for the Dissemination of Knowledge. In addition, he has received honorary degrees from more than 100 colleges and universities. Dr. Franklin, and his late wife Aurelia, have one son.

On this particular day, this regal, yet humble gentleman welcomed this writer for THE BLACK COLLEGIAN into his Durham, North Carolina, home with an easy smile and sweep of his arms toward the living room. There he swung his legs over an arm chair poised and ready to share his knowledge and converse about the lofty career he fashioned for himself.

Though raised in an educated home, Dr. Franklin worked hard early in life to make his living. His intention when he matriculated to college was to get through quickly and become his attorney father's "sidekick" manager. "I wanted to make people pay the money they owed him," said Franklin, who noted that his father was more interested in providing legal assistance than collecting his earnings. His father had a fairly large practice with some Indian clients and very few African Americans, said Franklin, explaining that many patronized white lawyers because they felt they could make their way through the justice system with more success than with a Black lawyer.

Despite those good intentions to return to his father's side, Franklin's plans began to change in his freshman year. "I ran into a young white professor, Theodore S. Currier, who was astounding." Franklin took a course from Currier his sophomore year and "within my first term, I knew I had career problems. He was so transforming, so powerful, so influential. I knew I wanted to be a historian just like him."

Currier took great interest in young John Hope and began to prepare him for Harvard University. …

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