The Old Man Is Dead: John Hope Franklin, 1915-2009


[photo by Derek Anderson, via IndyWeek]

When W.E.B. Du Bois died in 1963, one day before the March on Washington, word got around quickly. "The old man is dead," people said to each other. Today, people were saying the same thing, as news spread that John Hope Franklin, one of the great American historians, had died at the age of 94. More will be coming, but you can read about his life in the New York Times and in his home state of Oklahoma. The New York Review of Books has lengthy reviews from recent years that also sum up his career. Talking Points Memo has a photo essay, and his friend and colleague Walter Dellinger remembers him in the Washington Post, including the call he made to Franklin from the Democratic convention after Barack Obama was nominated for president.

One of the thrills of my time here was when we started our Grownup School feature a few years back, just when Franklin's autobiography, Mirror to America, was coming out, and he agreed to my request (one I'm sure he had heard countless times before) for his 10 recommended books on African American history. In a small way, via the intermediaries of the FSG publicity department, I felt like I had touched history and was only a step away from Du Bois and those before him. Here are Franklin's choices and his short comments on them:

Anyone else preparing such a list, of course, would likely have placed at its top Franklin's own best-known work, From Slavery to Freedom, his history of African American life that was first published, after lengthy research in segregated libraries, in 1947 and has remained in print ever since, selling over three million copies. That book overshadowed his others, as in some ways his remarkable career did as well. (George Frederickson speculated why his example has proved more influential than his actual writing: "Honoring him personally as a pioneer of academic integration was less threatening to white presumptions of control over the American past than taking his scholarly achievements seriously; considering him simply as a black high-achiever was easier for black radicals than giving close attention to his views on the difference between scholarship and propaganda.") Here's a partial list of his other work:

Lastly, here's a short video of Franklin from last year, discussing Obama's nomination (via the Post):


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Comments (1)

I recall reading in a biography of Frank Lloyd Wright, who died at the age of 97, a quote that seems appropriate today with the passing of John Hope Franklin...
"Why can't genius be immoratl?"

Posted by: Charles | Thursday March 26, 2009 at 10:31 AM

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