John Hope Franklin (1915 - 2009) Bullitt Chair (February 1987)

United States Southern historian John Hope Franklin was the fourth scholar to hold the Bullitt Chair in American History at the University of Washington, occupying the chair in February of 1987.  Born into a Jim Crow society Franklin both encountered and challenged racism during his lifetime.  He was prevented, for example, in the 1930s from studying at the University of Oklahoma because of his race, yet in 1956 he became chair of the all-white history department at Brooklyn College.  In addition to teaching at Brooklyn College Franklin also held teaching positions at Fisk (1936), St. Augustine's College, North Carolina College for Negroes (now North Carolina Central University), Howard University (1947), the University of Chicago (1964 -1982), where he also served as the chair of the history department from 1967-1970, and Duke University where he retired from the history department in 1985.  After retirement from history, Franklin spent another seven years as professor of legal history at the Duke Law School.

John Hope Franklin was born on January 2, 1915 in Rentiesville, Oklahoma, the grandson of a slave.  Originally intending to study law, Franklin received his undergraduate degree in history from Fisk University in 1935.  Franklin earned his M.A. (1936) and Ph.D. (1941) from Harvard. He was the author of numerous books including The Free Negro in North Carolina (1943), From Slavery to Freedom: A History of American Negroes (1947), The Militant South (1956), The Emancipation Proclamation (1963), A Southern Odyssey: Travelers in the Antebellum North (1976), and George Washington Williams: A Biography (1985). He also has edited many works including a book about his father titled My Life and an Era: The Autobiography of Buck Colbert Franklin (1997), which he co-edited with his son, John Whittington Franklin. In 2005 Franklin completed his autobiography, Mirror to America: The Autobiography of John Hope Franklin.

Franklin received more than 130 honorary degrees during his lifetime and served in a variety of professional capacities including as president of the American Studies Association (1967), the Phi Beta Kappa Society (1973-1976), the Southern Historical Association (1970), the Organization of American Historians (OAH) in 1975, and the American Historical Association (AHA) in 1979.  Working with Thurgood Marshall's law office in the 1950s Franklin helped prepare the legal brief that led to the historic Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision.  In 1965 Franklin accompanied the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on the march from Selma to Montgomery.  In 1980, he was a United States delegate to the 21st General Conference of UNESCO, and in 1997 Franklin was appointed chairman of the advisory board for President Clinton's One America: The President's Initiative on Race.  He has also been on the Board of Trustees of Fisk University, the Chicago Public Library, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association.  Internationally, Franklin was the Pitt Professor of American History and Institutions at Cambridge University.  He consulted on American Education in the Soviet Union, was a Fulbright Professor in Australia, and a lecturer in American History in the People' Republic of China.

In 1995 Duke University established the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture in its Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library, and in 2001 the John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary and International Studies, ( was founded at Duke.  He was the recipient of numerous awards including the OAH’s award for outstanding achievement and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

John Hope Franklin died on March 25, 2009 of congestive heart failure at Duke Hospital in North Carolina.  He was 94. 

John Hope Franklin,

Authored by:
Debbie McNally, University of Washington, Seattle


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