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John Hope Franklin Publishes Memoirs of Life

John Hope Franklin Publishes Memoirs of Life

These days, Dr. John Hope Franklin spends more time in the greenhouse with his collection of 300 orchids than in library stacks.

Franklin fell in love with orchids because “they’re full of challenges, mystery” — the same reasons he fell in love with history.

His autobiography, Mirror to America, which came out last month, reveals a man who has been as much a participant in history as a chronicler of it.

Franklin helped Thurgood Marshall on the 1954 Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education. He became the first Black historian to assume a full-professorship at a White college and chaired President Clinton’s Initiative on Race.

But it is his works, more than his deeds, which have earned the 90-year-old historian 137 honorary degrees, the NAACP’s Spingarn Award and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. His landmark From Slavery to Freedom, published in 1947, has sold more than 3.5 million copies and remains required reading in many college classrooms.

“I would compare him to Carter Woodson and W.E.B. Du Bois,” says Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Dr. Leon F. Litwack, who served as a graduate assistant when Franklin taught at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1956.

“What he did was to demonstrate to a very skeptical and sometimes rather indifferent profession … that the history of Black Americans was a legitimate field for scholarly inquiry and investigation.”

Mirror is Franklin’s 15th book. All but one are still in print.

Franklin says his career has been a lifelong crusade to pull Black history “into the mainstream.” But he finds that the country has not yet overcome its “twoness.” The “problem of the color line,” which Du Bois saw dominating 20th-century America, has persisted into the 21st.
“I think Americans still think of African-American history as separate, the way they think of African-Americans as separate,” he says. “It’s very noxious, very annoying, very sad that we cannot think of ourselves as one people.”

Associated Press

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