The New York Public Library, especially the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, joins millions of Americans in honoring the pioneering, purposeful, immensely productive life of Dr. John Hope Franklin (1915–2009). The preeminent scholar of the African American experience, he was a leading authority on Southern American history, a distinguished educator, and an uncompromising advocate for equality and justice in American society.
A New York Public Library Lion (2007), a co-chair of the Schomburg Center's first private fundraising campaign, member of the Schomburg Center's National Advisory Council, and recipient of the Schomburg Center's Africana Heritage Award (2006), Dr. Franklin was a passionate supporter of the Schomburg Center and The New York Public Library for more than 35 years. He also brought respect and dignity to the study of American history, having devoted his life to rescuing, reconstructing, and reinterpreting African American and American history.
For more than 60 years, Dr. Franklin's From Slavery to Freedom has been the definitive, authoritative text on African American history. First published in 1947, it has sold more than 3 million copies and been translated into several languages. In addition to documenting and interpreting the African American experience, From Slavery to Freedom challenged many of the dominant assumptions and interpretations of American history. Dr. Franklin's autobiography, Mirror to America (2005), received critical acclaim for its unflinching honesty and candor and its transcendent insights into America's national character. His biography, George Washington Williams (1985), rescued one of the pioneer American historians from obscurity and anonymity and reminded the world that his own achievements in the field rested on the shoulders of his ancestors. Williams's 1,000-page History of African Americans from 1619 to 1880 was published in 1882.
Other John Hope Franklin publications include: The Free Negro in North Carolina (1943), The Militant South, 1800–1861 (1956 — also available as a free web text), Reconstruction After the Civil War (1961), Emancipation Proclamation (1963), Color and Race (1968), and The Color Line Legacy for the 21st Century (1993). Altogether, he wrote or edited more than 20 books and published more than 100 articles and essays. His contributions to scholarship, education, and the African American freedom struggle were not limited to his publications, however. In the academy, Dr. Franklin broke down racial barriers on numerous occasions. He was the first African American to serve as chairman of a major American university history department. He was the first African American president of Phi Beta Kappa as well as the first African American president of the leading American history organizations: the American Studies Association (1967), the Southern Historical Association (1970), the Organization of American Historians (1975), and the American Historical Association (1979). The recipient of more than 100 honorary doctorates for his contributions to scholarship and education, Dr. Franklin was also respected for his contributions to the struggle for social justice. Thurgood Marshall called on his expertise to develop his case in Brown vs. Board of Education. He was in the front ranks of the march from Selma to Montgomery with Martin Luther King, Jr., that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And in recognition of his consistent voice advocating racial justice in America, President Bill Clinton tapped Dr. Franklin to lead his national conversation on race in 1997.
In 1989, Dr. Franklin delivered a lecture on race and the U.S. constitution at the Schomburg Center. It was eventually published as a Schomburg Center Occasional Paper. And in October 2005, The New York Public Library hosted a conversation between President Clinton and Dr. Franklin on his autobiography and the enduring challenge of race and racism in American national life.