Durham News

Duke honors historian John Hope Franklin with year-long series of events

Franklin’s 1947 book, “From Slavery to Freedom,” completed while he taught at what is now North Carolina Central University (NCCU), sold more than 3 million copies and transformed the literature of American history.
Franklin’s 1947 book, “From Slavery to Freedom,” completed while he taught at what is now North Carolina Central University (NCCU), sold more than 3 million copies and transformed the literature of American history. N&O file photo

Duke University will hold events during the next year paying tribute to preeminent historian John Hope Franklin, who would have turned 100 years old this January.

“John Hope Franklin@100: Scholar, Activist, Citizen” will kick off on Wednesday, Jan. 28, with an event featuring Vernon Jordan, a civil rights activist, attorney, former adviser to President Bill Clinton and a personal friend of the Franklin family. Jordan will discuss the way Franklin, who died on March 25, 2009, at age 94, changed American universities in the 20th century.

The 6 p.m. celebration is free and open to the public and takes place in the Von Der Heyden Pavilion in Perkins Library on Duke’s West Campus. Visitor parking is available in the Bryan Center garage.

“On this, the 100th anniversary of John Hope Franklin's birth, we celebrate the life of a national hero,” said William Chafe, Duke history professor emeritus and co-chair of the centenary organizing committee. “Born at the height of Jim Crow oppression, he embodied the struggle of black Americans to steadfastly resist white racism.”

“No one did more to focus attention on the fundamental contradiction between racism and democracy,” he continued. “And in this year of his centenary, we celebrate and remember all he did to make us live up to his dream of racial justice and dignity.”

In addition to Duke, N.C. Central University and the Durham County Library have organized events for the John Hope Franklin Centenary celebration.

Highlights include:

• Feb. 5: “Tutu and Franklin: A Journey Towards Peace,” a documentary, 5 to 9 p.m., Full Frame Theatre, American Tobacco Campus, speaker: John W. Franklin, senior manager, Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture



• Feb. 10: “My Lifelong Friendship with Dr. Franklin,” 11:35 a.m., NCCU Student Union lobby, speaker: Walter Brown, former dean, NCCU Department of Education



• April 1: Distinguished Lecture 6:30 p.m., Sanford School of Public Policy, speaker: historian Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Harvard University



• Oct. 30: World Premiere Commission for JHF 100th, 8 p.m., Baldwin Auditorium, Duke University, composer: Frederic Rzewski, musicians: Imani Winds and Fisk Jubilee Singers



• Nov. 5-7: John Hope Franklin Centenary Symposium, Nasher Museum of Art and John Hope Franklin Center, speaker: Drew Faust, president, Harvard University



Franklin’s 1947 book, “From Slavery to Freedom,” completed while he taught at what is now NCCU, sold more than 3 million copies and transformed the literature of American history. Through that work and multiple additional volumes, Franklin has been widely credited with helping to create the field of African-American history. He was perhaps best known for his work as chairman of Clinton’s 1997 national advisory board on race.

After years of teaching at the North Carolina College for Negroes (now NCCU), Brooklyn College and the University of Chicago, Franklin came to Duke in 1982, where for the last three decades of his life he served as the James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of History. He spent seven years as professor of legal history at the Duke Law School, where he has been honored with an endowed chair.

At Duke, Franklin's legacy has been honored in many ways. In 2001, Duke opened the John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary and International Studies, which became an intellectual home for the Franklin Humanities Institute, an initiative encouraging collaboration across disciplines. In 2006 he delivered Duke's commencement address. After celebrating his 90th birthday in January 2005, Duke held a symposium celebrating the 10th anniversary of the John Hope Franklin Collection of African & African American Documentation. The event also marked the publication of his autobiography, “Mirror to America.”

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