John Hope Franklin would have been 100 years old on January 2, 2015.
On this campus, we like to take a lot of pride in a well, sometimes I like to think of the curatorial work as building a well for present and future historians. The increased breadth and depth of our collecting will yield more satisfied and refreshed researchers. I admire John Hope Franklin because he was looking into wells that did not reflect his face, on property which he was not welcome to occupy; and drew conclusions that we still rely on today. More information on the treatment of African American scholars in public archival research spaces can be found in Alex Poole’s American Archivists article, The Strange Career of Jim Crow Archives: Race, Space, and History in the mid-20th century American South.
Among many of Franklin’s accomplishments, including degrees from Fisk University and Harvard University, teaching at St. Augustine’s (Raleigh, NC), University of Chicago, North Carolina Central University and Duke University; as well as numerous volumes on American, Southern, and African American history; I think that his involvement with the Southern Historical Association (SHA) is one of the highlights. It boggles my mind that in 84 years since emancipation, no descendant of a slave could stand up among scholars and talk about Southern history. In 1949, Franklin accepted his colleague, C. Vann Woodward’s request to be the first African American on the program at the SHA annual meeting. In his oral history session, Franklin reflects on the group’s concerns about where he would eat and sleep as well as if he would have the gall to stand at a podium and “talk down” to the white people in the audience.
Even after the presentation went on without any problems, racist historians continued to exclude black scholars in implicit and explicit ways. As the number of brilliant yet exiled historians began to mount (Franklin, Savage, Wesley, and Bacote), SHA leadership decided to re-locate the 1953 Knoxville meeting to a place where everyone could participate. The move to integrate the SHA was swift, which made Woodward and Franklin take notice. According to Woodward biographer, John H. Roper, the subsequent conversations among the scholars led to Woodward’s premise on the escapability of Jim Crow, which led to the seminal text, Woodward’s, The Strange Career of Jim Crow, published in 1955.
More information on John Hope Franklin and his extraordinary career can be found in the following collections within the Southern Historical Collection:
John Hope Franklin Oral History (#04007: A-0339)
John Herbert Roper Papers (#04235)
Southern Historical Association (#04030)
Throughout 2015, major libraries in the Triangle including Durham Public Libraries, North Carolina Central University, and Duke University will be honoring the legacy of John Hope Franklin. More information on these events can be found here.