John Hope Franklin: 'Revisionist' Historian Franklin Gets America Thinking About Role of African Americans





John Hope Franklin helped Americans rediscover, and rethink, some critical chapters in their nation's history. The 92-year-old historian's influence on the prism of American history has been so profound that in 1995 he was awarded the nation's highest civilian honor, when Bill Clinton presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.



"John Hope Franklin, the son of the South, has always been a moral compass for America, always pointing us in the direction of truth," President Clinton told the audience. "'I look history straight in the eye and call it like it is,' John Hope Franklin has said: telling the untold stories of northern racism and the sinful confines of slavery."

In 1921, as a boy of six in an impoverished, all-black Oklahoma town, John Hope Franklin, the grandson of a slave, watched in terror as white rioters torched African-American neighborhoods in nearby Tulsa and burned his father's law office to the ground.

But he would carry not bitterness or hatred into adulthood, but determination to learn, to excel, and to illuminate the full and true story of his people. He did so well at historically black Fisk College in Nashville, Tennessee,  that he was admitted to graduate school at the acclaimed Harvard University. But the nation was in the grips of the Great Depression. Neither he nor his family could afford the tuition that Harvard demanded. These were agonizing moments until his mentor, a Fisk history professor, intervened.

"He was a young white man," Franklin recalls. "I was 20 years old; he was 32. He went downtown and borrowed $500 and put it in my hand and said, 'Money will not keep you out of Harvard.' And he sent me off to Harvard the next day. Well, if that was a low point, it was also a high point, too, for I was back on track."
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