John Hope Franklin: Set to Deliver Duke's Commencement AddressHistorians in the News
Franklin, 91, is considered a leading figure in the field of African-American history, American race relations and Southern regional history. He has received dozens of honors and awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Gold Medal in History by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Duke awarded him an honorary degree in 1998. In 1997, Franklin was appointed chairman of the advisory board for President Clinton’s “One America: The President’s Initiative on Race.”
Brodhead said Franklin is uniquely qualified to address Duke students and their families.
“When choosing a commencement speaker, we look for someone who has led a life of distinction and accomplishment. Certainly that is true for Dr. Franklin, whose scholarly and personal achievements have inspired countless people in the fight for justice and equality,” Brodhead said. “With Dr. Franklin, we also get a person with a great sense of this place. I know he will deliver a message that resonates with our students because he understands where Duke students have been as well as where they are going.”
Jon Pattillo, treasurer of Duke’s senior class, called Franklin “an excellent choice.” “He has close connections to Duke and a passion to be there. It’s not like someone who has no feelings toward the university.”
Franklin’s “From Slavery to Freedom,” originally published in 1947, is considered one of the definitive works on the black experience. He has published and edited numerous other books, and in 2005 he published his autobiography, “Mirror to America: The Autobiography of John Hope Franklin,” which received critical acclaim.
Born Jan. 2, 1915 in a small town in Oklahoma, Franklin was educated at Fisk University and Harvard University, where he earned a Ph.D. He has taught at Fisk, Brooklyn College and the University of Chicago. In 1982, he was named James B. Duke Professor of History at Duke and was elected professor emeritus in 1985. From 1985 to 1992, he was professor of legal history in the Duke Law School.
In addition to his work as a historian, Franklin was involved in some of the key events of the Civil Rights movement. As an expert on Southern history, he was recruited by NAACP attorney Thurgood Marshall in 1953 to help prepare the brief in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case before the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1965, he accompanied the Rev. Martin Luther King on the march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala.
Franklin has served as president of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, the American Studies Association, the Southern Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians and the American Historical Association.
In 2001, Duke opened the John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary and International Studies, which is dedicated to bringing together humanists and social scientists to study important societal issues from a variety of perspectives.
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