John Hope Franklin (1915-2009)

cimg0234Today one of the truly gifted historians died at the age of 94.  John Hope Franklin, however, was always more than a historian.  He understood that the present and the past are closely interwoven and that the study of history is always the first step to addressing present injustices.  Duke University has set up a webpage to commemorate the life of John Hope Franklin.

My wife and I were lucky enough to meet Dr. Franklin last summer at a slave family reunion at Montpelier.  Simply put, Dr. Franklin is one of my intellectual heroes.  His career embodies a strong commitment to racial justice through activism and scholarship.  It would be more accurate to say that his scholarship is in fact a form of activism, and at 94 he was still going strong.  I especially enjoyed listening to him discuss why it is so important to tell the story of slavery as part of American history and the perils of ignoring or forgetting the past.  I like to think that my own research on Civil War memory is in a way a form of activism.  I to believe that it is important for a nation to confront its collective past in all of its richness, which includes both moments of great achievement as well as disappointment.  And I am convinced that one can keep this moral goal in mind without it impinging or threatening the integrity of scholarship.  The highlight of the day was having the chance to talk with him in person.  I truly felt like I was talking with one of the great Americans of the twentieth century and I don’t mind saying that I was just a little star struck.

All I can say is, thank you Dr. Franklin.  We will miss you.

CraterThanks for reading this post. Scroll down, leave a comment and join the conversation if you are so inclined. Follow me on Twitter and join the Civil War Memory Facebook group for continuous updates and additional links to newsworthy items from around the interwebs. Stay up to date by subscribing to this blog’s feed. You can also check out my recently published book, Remembering the Battle of the Crater: War as Murder.

4 comments… add one

  • Laura McCarty Mar 26, 2009

    Kevin:

    If you haven’t yet read Dr. Franklin’s memoir Mirror to America: the Autobiography of John Hope Franklin, I strongly recommend it–a very moving account of a beautiful life.

    Laura

    • Kevin Levin Mar 26, 2009

      I read it straight through when it was first published and highly recommend it to anyone looking for a story of a rich life that dovetails with some of the most important events of the twentieth century.

  • James F. Epperson Mar 26, 2009

    I thought the stars seemed a bit brighter last night…

  • John Maass Mar 27, 2009

    He was an impressive man….

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