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A towering giant's grand vision page 2
U.S. National Slavery Museum board member and eminent historian shares his vision for the facility

Date published: 9/11/2004



John Hope Franklin was born in Oklahoma 50 years after slavery was abolished. An avid student, he received his bachelor's degree in history from Fisk University at the age of 20 and then went on to Harvard for his master's and doctorate.

Though the scholarly work he is most associated with is "From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans," it is a text Franklin didn't seek to write.

In fact, when Alfred A. Knopf publishing company first approached the young historian shortly after World War II, he turned it down. It took a personal visit and a $500 advance to persuade Franklin it was indeed time for such an undertaking.

Today, 57 years after its first printing, the book is in its eighth edition, has been printed in several languages and continues to be popular with scholars and casual readers alike.

"Many of my colleagues and I consider it to be the Bible in importance to the field," said Darlene Clark Hine, who is the Board of Trustees Professor of African American Studies at Northwestern University and considers Franklin her mentor and friend.

But that text is just one of the prolific writer's works on U.S. history. He has written numerous articles and books, including "Runaway Slaves: Rebels on the Plantation," a recent collaboration with a former student to dispel myths about slavery.

His legacy includes having an institution--the John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary and International Studies--created in his honor on the Duke campus. His personal and professional papers now make up a special collection in the university's library where a large oil painting of him is also displayed.

That painting, by Washington artist Simmie Knox, depicts Franklin wearing the Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded him by President Clinton in 1995 and shows a framed picture of Franklin's wife at his side.

Aurelia Whittington Franklin died in January 1999. The couple had been married 581/2 years and have one son, John Whittington Franklin, an anthropologist with the Smithsonian Institution.

Historians and museum experts alike call John Hope Franklin "the pre-eminent historian" of African-American history. But they say his "scrupulous" scholarly work and his lengthy teaching career take him far beyond that.

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