John Hope Franklin, the revered historian who chronicled the South and gave definition to the African-American experience, died this morning at age of 94.
Franklin, the James B. Duke professor of history emeritus at Duke University, died this morning at Duke Hospital, said Ddavid Jarmul, a spokesman for Duke University.
Franklin was considered one of the most influential historians of the 20th century. His book "From Slavery to Freedom," first published in 1947, was a seminal work on African-American history and has sold 3.5 million copies.
He was at the forefront of some of the biggest turning points in the nation's civil rights history. In 1953, he helped NAACP lawyers with research for the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education school desegregation case. In 1965, he joined a group of historians who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King from Selma to Montgomery. Five decades after his masterpiece was published, he was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1997 to lead a national intiative on race.
"I hardly needed to seek a way to confront American racial injustice," he wrote in his 2005 memoir "Mirror to America." "My ambition was sufficient to guarantee that confrontation."
I had the privilege of attending some public talks that Dr. Franklin gave in the Triangle area in the 1980s. He came to Duke in 1983, when I was in high school just up the road, and throughout my college years at Chapel Hill he was active as a college professor and public intellectual, even though he took "emeritus" status not long after he arrived at Duke.
He was an inspiring, erudite speaker, a deep and interesting thinker, and he seems to have lived his entire life with the courage of his convictions intact.
We should all be able to say that about ourselves.
See also: John Hope Franklin article at Wikipedia and his faculty bio at Duke University.