Frank Stasio's Fondest Shows: Meet Preeminent Scholar And Tireless Activist John Hope Franklin

Dec 3, 2020

From the 1965 Selma March to Duke classrooms, John Hope Franklin centered the Black experience in American history.
Credit Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago


When John Hope Franklin chaired former President Bill Clinton's initiative on race in the 1990s, he started with what he called "the naivete that often accompanies optimism." That he could be either naive or optimistic after documenting the long struggle for civil rights is remarkable, and was no doubt, the kind of optimism born of intellectual integrity and an open mind.

Almost from the time he was born in Oklahoma in 1915, John Hope Franklin encountered racism. As a 6 year old, he was thrown off a train for sitting in a whites-only coach. That same year his father's law practice was burned to the ground during the infamous Tulsa Race Riot. When he was 19, he was nearly lynched in Mississippi. When he was a graduate student at Harvard, he was denied service at a restaurant. At age 45, he was denied a home loan, and on the very night he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, he was mistaken for a coat-check attendant.

John Hope Franklin pursued one of the most remarkable academic careers of the 20th century. He was valedictorian at Booker T. Washington High School, attended Fisk University for undergrad and earned a Ph.D. at Harvard. Franklin went on to become the first Black professor to chair a department at a predominantly white university when he joined the faculty of Brooklyn College in 1956 before moving on to the University of Chicago and finally Duke University. In 1947 he published "From Slavery to Freedom: A History of American Negroes,” which quickly became the definitive history of African Americans and sold more than three million copies before his death. He wrote or edited almost 20 other books including his autobiography “Mirror to America.”

John Hope Franklin passed away in 2009. Host Frank Stasio spoke with him in 2006 and considers that conversation one of the high points of his career.

View the complete list of Frank's fondest conversations airing December 2020.