John Hope Franklin: 2 surprising stories about a great historian





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  • HNN: In Memory of John Hope Franklin (1915-2009)
  • John Hope Franklin, the black historian whose towering intellect was matched only by his dedication to his craft, was one of those people whose passing makes me sigh and feel this gut-remorse that I never made the time to call or write to say something like: "Professor Franklin, I've read your stuff, and, well, I love you, man!"

    Franklin died Wednesday of heart failure. He was 94. Most people know that Franklin once taught African-American history at the University of Chicago. But there are two other stories that most people don't know—one professional, the other personal—that connect Franklin to the Chicago Public Library system and to one of its archivists.

    These stories come from my dear friend Michael Flug, senior archivist at the Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection at the Carter G. Woodson Library. He obliged me last week when I called him knowing that if anybody could tell me something, anything, new about Franklin, Flug was that person. ...

    What Flug knows of Franklin goes beyond the professional.

    Franklin went to graduate school at Harvard in the 1930s with Flug's uncle, Oscar Handlin. Franklin nominated Handlin as an officer of the Henry Adams Club (an organization of historians at Harvard) and was stunned by the reaction.

    In his autobiography, "Mirror to America," Franklin writes: "After the nomination, there was dead silence. Eventually, one of the members spoke up and said that although Oscar did not have some of the more objectionable Jewish traits, he was still a Jew. I was appalled. ... I witnessed anti-Semitism for the first time."

    Flug said that Handlin and Franklin would become lifelong friends. "In our house, the name John Hope Franklin was always spoken with affection and reverence."

    That seems to be the prevailing sentiment when it comes to the great history professor—and why he will be dearly missed.



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