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A towering giant's grand vision page 3
U.S. National Slavery Museum board member and eminent historian shares his vision for the facility


Date published: 9/11/2004

By PAMELA GOULD

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"For so long, the profession used to label black scholars as 'great black historians' or 'great African-American historians' as if that meant something different in excellence of scholarship," said John Fleming, who has worked in the field for decades. "He was one of the most outstanding and prominent American scholars."

Nell Painter, the Edwards Professor of American History at Princeton University and an associate of Franklin's for three decades, echoed that sentiment, saying his research has crossed all color lines, thus adding to his credibility as a historian.

"He is one of the towering giants," she said.

Having entertainer Bill Cosby on its board gives the museum an icon of popular culture with a philanthropic bent. Franklin's presence gives it cachet in the academic world.

"He has the breadth of knowledge of African-American history from slavery to the present that few people can challenge or match," said Hine, who has known Franklin since the 1970s. "It was an inspired choice--but at some level, it was a no-brainer."

One man's vision

Franklin's vision for a slavery museum is a facility that keeps its focus squarely on American slavery in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

To tell that story, the author of the seminal text on African-American history said a handful of subjects needs to be addressed. The first would be the slave trade and the expansion of slavery through the Colonies.

He would also show how American society was transformed as a result of slave labor. And he would teach visitors about the nation's internal strife over the extension and expansion of slavery.

Finally, he would address the end of slavery, brought about by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified on Dec. 6, 1865.

Unlike Jacob Dekker, another of the museum's seven board members, Franklin has no interest in addressing present-day slavery. He also has no interest in expanding the museum's focus to address other experiences of African-Americans.

Franklin believes a dramatic and factual telling of the story of American slavery will provide the prism through which visitors can understand other race-related issues.

"I think, if we do this right it will illuminate all these later struggles," he said.

Franklin has no doubt this nation needs a museum devoted to the institution of slavery and no doubt Virginia is where it should be built.

"It's long, long, long overdue," he said.


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