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:
- My Bondage and My Freedom by Frederick Douglass: "A remarkable work by a former slave who became a leading thinker and activist in post-Emancipation America."
- The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois: "This classic clearly delineates the utter frustration of African Americans who attempt to adjust to the American racial jungle."
- A History of the Negro Race in America, 1619-1880 by George Washington Williams: "The very first comprehensive, scholarly treatment of the subject. A remarkable feat!" [One obituary notes that a lengthy biography of the pioneering but largely forgotten Williams was one of the great projects of Franklin's life.]
- Been in the Storm So Long by Leon Litwack: "One of few works that corrects the myths about the post-slavery years."
- Black Women in America by Darlene Clark Hine: "A comprehensive biographical tool providing topic information on notable African American women."
- The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-bellum South by Kenneth Stampp: "A remarkable book that deromanticizes slavery in the United States. One of the pioneer works undertaking to refute the apologists for slavery."
- An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and American Democracy by Gunnar Myrdal: "In many ways this is the most comprehensive treatment of the nexus of race and American social, economics, and political institutions in the post-World War II years."
- The Black Church in the African American Experience by C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence H. Mamiya: "Is perhaps the most comprehensive examination of this major institution in African American life."
- Black History and the Historical Profession, 1915-1980 by August Meier and Elliott Rudwick: "A remarkable history and analysis of the way in which African American history has affected historians and their craft."
- In the Matter of Color: Race and the American Legal Process by A. Leon Higginbotham: "A sequel is his Shades of Freedom: Racial Politics and Presumptions of the American Legal Process."
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:
- The Free Negro in North Carolina, 1790-1860 (1943)
- The Militant South, 1800-1861 (1956)
- Reconstruction: After the Civil War (1961)
- The Emancipation Proclamation (1963)
- Color and Race (1968)
- Racial Equality in America (1976)
- A Southern Odyssey: Travelers in the Antebellum North (1976)
- George Washington Williams: A Biography (1985)
- Race and History: Selected Essays, 1938-1988 (1989)
- The Color Line: Legacy for the 21st Century (1993)
- Runaway Slaves: Rebels on the Plantation (1999, with Loren Schweninger)
Lastly, here's a short video of Franklin from last year, discussing Obama's nomination (via the Post):