A man smiles in front of a building

Click here to see a detailed digital timeline of John Hope Franklin's life and work, as prepared by the Franklin Research Center at the Duke University Libraries.

John Hope Franklin (1915-2009) was James B. Duke Professor of History Emeritus and for seven years was Professor of Legal History at Duke University’s Law School. He was a native of Oklahoma and a graduate of Fisk University. He received his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in history from Harvard University in 1936 and 1941, respectively. During an extraordinary academic and public career that mirrored the transformations of 20th-century United States, he held teaching appointments at Fisk, St. Augustine’s College, North Carolina Central University (formerly the North Carolina College for Negroes), Howard University, Brooklyn College, the University of Chicago, and Duke University. In 1953, Dr. Franklin served on the NAACP Legal Defense Fund team that developed the case for Brown v. Board of Education. His research contributed to Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP's legal victory in this landmark case.

As a scholar, John Hope Franklin was perhaps best known for his field-defining study From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African-Americans (1947). The ninth edition of the book, co-authored with Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, was published in 2009. He was also the author of many other works including The Free Negro in North Carolina (dissertation, 1943); The Militant South, 1800-1861 (1956); Reconstruction After the Civil War (1961); Land of the Free (with John Caughey and William May) (1965); The Emancipation Proclamation (1965); An Illustrated History of Black Americans (1970); A Southern Odyssey: Travelers in the Antebellum North (1976); Racial Equality in America (1976); George Washington Williams: A Biography (1985); Race and History: Selected Essays, 1938-1988 (1990); The Color Line: Legacy for the 21st Century (1993); Xanadu (1999); For Better, For Worse (1999); and Runaway Slaves: Rebels on the Plantation (1999 - co-authored with former student Loren Schweninger), and Mirror to America: The Autobiography of John Hope Franklin. Dr. Franklin also edited or co-edited numerous books of historical scholarship, published one hundred and sixteen essays and numerous reviews, and authored over seventy-five unpublished pieces.

A distinguished academic leader, Dr. Franklin served as President of the Southern Historical Society, the Organization of American Historians, and the American Historical Association. He also served on a variety of commissions and boards, and was the recipient of numerous awards. In 1962 he was appointed to the Fulbright Board of Foreign Scholars. He served as Chair of the Board from 1966 to 1969. Later in his life, he was Chairman of the Advisory Board to the President’s Initiative on Race (1997-99) and the National Parks System Advisory Board (1999-2000). In 2002, he received the Gold Medal in History, the highest award given by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 2006, he was awarded the John W. Kluge Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Study of Humanity by the United States Library of Congress.

In 1997, Franklin was historical consultant on Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-nominated film Amistad, and was featured in “First Person Singular: John Hope Franklin,” a chronicle of his life documented for PBS. In January, 2001, Franklin was the subject of WUNC-TV’s “Biographical Conversations” which includes more than ten hours of footage condensed and presented in three one-hour segments. In addition, along with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, he was featured in “Race and Reconciliation: A Journey Towards Peace,” a PBS documentary filmed on the West African island of Goree which premiered at the Smithsonian Institution.

Until his death in March 2009, John Hope Franklin lived in Durham, North Carolina, where he maintained a 17 x 25 foot greenhouse containing over one hundred orchid specimens and hybrids, of which one, the “Phalaenopsis John Hope Franklin” is named for him.

At Duke, the FHI is one of several entities named after Dr. Franklin. Others include the John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary and International Studies and the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African American History and Culture at the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library.