John Hope Franklin: The Howard Years
By Damien T. Frierson, M.S.W., graduate assistant, Office of University Communications
Leading scholars in African-American and civil rights history gathered on Howard’s campus to honor a pioneer in Black historical research, John Hope Franklin, Ph.D., who died on March 25, 2009.
The three-day symposium in April, “The Legacy of Dr. John Hope Franklin: The Howard Years,” chronicled Franklin’s scholarship, research and service to the University and the nation. Serving as a professor of history at Howard from 1947 to 1956, Franklin developed friendships with renowned faculty members such as Alain Locke, E. Franklin Frazier, Rayford Logan, Merze Tate and Sterling Brown.
“We wanted to focus on the Howard years to bring out that special post-war period when Dr. Franklin experienced a new academic life here,” said Jeanne Maddox Toungara, Ph.D., associate professor of history and program committee chair. “We wanted to show how the environment and the professors he met here at Howard nurtured his intellectual spirit.”
During his opening remarks, President Sidney A. Ribeau, Ph.D., discussed the relevance of the period in which Franklin served on the Howard faculty and the cadre of Black intellectuals who had assembled to discuss that period. “It was a very exciting time for Howard University,” Ribeau said. “The opportunity to have distinguished scholars revisit this legacy and recreate that moment in time will hopefully provide us with a roadmap for our young aspiring scholars.”
The list of keynote speakers illustrated Franklin’s influence on scholarship on the Black experience. Speakers included alumna Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Ph.D., professor of history and African and African-American Studies at Harvard University; Charles Ogletree, J.D., professor, Harvard Law School; alumna Mary Frances Berry, Ph.D., professor of American Social Thought and history at the University of Pennsylvania; Ronald Walters, Ph.D., professor emeritus, University of Maryland College Park; and David Levering Lewis, Ph.D., professor of history at New York University.
The symposium also offered panelists and attendees the opportunity to discuss Franklin’s legacy as an educator. This was most apparent during his years at Howard where he cherished teaching as much as his research. In his autobiography, Mirror to America, Franklin recalled, “Some of the best students I ever taught were at Howard University.”
Among his many distinguished accomplishments and university chairmanships, Franklin authored several books, including From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans; provided legal and legislative research that laid the foundation for the Brown v. Board case; and served as chairman of the advisory board of President Bill Clinton’s Initiative on Race in 1997. He also served as the national president of Phi Beta Kappa and the American Historical Association.
While several of the panel discussions focused on the intellectual depth of his work, many of the presenters recalled Franklin as a mentor, colleague and friend. Higginbotham spoke of their collaboration as co-authors on the ninth edition of From Slavery to Freedom.
“He gave us a book, and I have tried to keep that tradition of a story that is an American story, an African-American story that is integral to America’s history,” she said. “As I think of his gift and fortitude, I can say without hesitation that more than anyone past or present, John Hope Franklin brought Black history into the mainstream of American history.”
Berry added, “One of the things that John Hope Franklin taught anybody who wants to make a career is how hard you have to work, how much you have to produce and how persistent you have to be. No matter what you are doing, you have to keep on working at it and producing, regardless.”