John Hope Franklin, Reparations, and Making Black Lives Better

By Franklin, V. P. | The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online), August 2016 | Go to article overview

John Hope Franklin, Reparations, and Making Black Lives Better


Franklin, V. P., The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)


A Response to Drew Gilpin Faust's "John Hope Franklin: Race and the Meaning of America" in The New York Review of Books, December 17, 2015 for the National African American Reparations Commission.

The article "John Hope Franklin: Race and the Meaning of America" by Harvard University's Drew Gilpin Faust in the 17 December 2015 issue of the New York Review of Books is a thoughtful rendering of the great historian's career and scholarship. The essay offers an overview of Franklin's upbringing, education, and contributions to the documenting of the nation's history. However, there are several important aspects of Franklin's professional and personal life missing from Faust's account.

Unlike many of his fellow historians, John Hope Franklin viewed himself as a "scholar-activist," which is a key aspect of the African American intellectual tradition that has no counterpart in the (white) American scholarly tradition. Franklin made this clear in his 2005 autobiography Mirror to America when he discussed his work with the NAACP on the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, which Faust alludes to in her article.

In addition, Franklin emphasized his scholarly activism even more in the two chapters in Mirror to America devoted to his work as chair of President Bill Clinton's "Initiative on Race," announced in June 1997. However, this important undertaking was not mentioned in the Faust article. Franklin and the other commissioners held hearings throughout the country on racial conditions, and released their report in September 1998. "One America in the 21st Century" described the "clear evidence of active forms of discrimination in employment, pay, housing, and consumer and credit markets between whites and racial minorities."

There were significant "racial disparities" in access high quality education, health care, and treatment in the criminal justice system. "Examples of this phenomenon can be found in the use of racial profiling in law enforcement and the differences in the rates of arrest, conviction, and sentencing of whites and minorities and people of color." There was a recommendation to "reduce or eliminate drug sentencing disparities" and to "promote comprehensive efforts to keep young people out of the criminal justice system." The main conclusion was the need for a "long-term strategy" to pursue "policies designed to increase opportunity and eliminate racial disparities."

At the same time, John Hope Franklin was outspoken in calling for reparations payments to African Americans collectively to address these "racial disparities." "People are running around apologizing for slavery," declared Franklin. "What about the awful period since slavery - Reconstruction, Jim Crow and all the rest? What about the enormous wealth that was built up by black labor?" Franklin sought reparations for the losses his father, attorney Buck Franklin, suffered from the notorious Tulsa Race Riot in 1921 when the prosperous black business area was destroyed by whites. Franklin and other survivors of the violence testified before the Oklahoma legislature's commission set up to investigate the incident, and while the commission recommended "direct payment of reparations to the survivors of the Tulsa Race Riot," none were authorized by Oklahoma legislators. …

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