Thursday, March 26, 2009

John Hope Franklin 1915 - 2009

As an author, his book ''From Slavery to Freedom'' was a landmark integration of black history into American history that remains relevant more than 60 years after being published. As a scholar, his research helped Thurgood Marshall and his team at the NAACP win Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 case that barred the doctrine of ''separate but equal'' in the nation's public schools.

''It was evident how much the lawyers appreciated what the historians could offer,'' Franklin later wrote. ''For me, and I suspect the same was true for the others, it was exhilarating.''

Franklin himself broke numerous color barriers. He was the first black department chair at a predominantly white institution, Brooklyn College; the first black professor to hold an endowed chair at Duke; and the first black president of the American Historical Association.

He often regarded his country like an exasperated relative, frustrated by racism's stubborn power, yet refusing to give up. ''I want to be out there on the firing line, helping, directing or doing something to try to make this a better world, a better place to live,'' Franklin told The Associated Press in 2005.

In November, after Barack Obama broke the ultimate racial barrier in American politics, Franklin called his ascension to the White House ''one of the most historic moments, if not the most historic moment, in the history of this country.''

''Because of the life John Hope Franklin lived, the public service he rendered, and the scholarship that was the mark of his distinguished career, we all have a richer understanding of who we are as Americans and our journey as a people,'' Obama said in a statement. ''Dr. Franklin will be deeply missed, but his legacy is one that will surely endure.''

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