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Honoring His Legacy

Duke to pay tribute to historian John Hope Franklin on his centennial

JHF centennial

As a young historian, John Hope Franklin's encountered the senselessness of Jim Crow first-hand as he conducted research in Duke's segregated library.

Nearly six decades later, several Duke programs and one building -- the only structure on campus named for an African-American -- bear his name. And the same university that would not allow him to use a public restroom will honor the historian on the occasion of his 100th birthday with a yearlong series of events.

“John Hope Franklin@100: Scholar, Activist, Citizen” will kick off on Jan. 28, with an event featuring Vernon Jordan, a civil rights activist, attorney, former adviser to President Bill Clinton and a friend to the Franklin family. Jordan will discuss the way Franklin changed American universities in the 20th century.

The 6 p.m. celebration will be held in the Von Der Heyden Pavilion on Duke’s West Campus. The event is free and open to the public. Free visitor parking is available in the Bryan Center garage.

Jordan became field secretary for the NAACP in Georgia in 1961 and has served as president of the National Urban League and executive director of the United Negro College Fund. He was an adviser in Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign, and helped guide the new president's transition into office. In 2009, Jordan, along with Clinton, visited Duke’s campus to attend Franklin’s memorial service.

“It is an honor for the Centenary kick-off to take place here in the library and to host an exhibition in Dr. Franklin’s honor throughout the spring semester,” said John Gartrell, director of the John Hope Franklin Research Center at Duke.

“Franklin’s presence on campus is sorely missed by those who worked with him and knew him so well and we hope the yearlong celebration of his life will honor his legacy and continue to inspire young generations of scholars to follow in his footsteps,” Gartrell said.

In addition to Duke, North Carolina Central University and the Durham County Library have organized events for the John Hope Franklin Centenary celebration.

Highlights from the centenary include: 

  • Feb. 5: “Tutu & Franklin: A Journey Towards Peace,” documentary 5-9 p.m., Full Frame Theatre, American Tobacco Campus

Speaker: John W. Franklin, senior manager, Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture 

  • Feb. 10: “My Lifelong Friendship with Dr. Franklin," 11:35 a.m., NCCU Student Union lobby

Speaker: Walter Brown, former dean, NCCU Department of Education, North Carolina Central University

  • April 1: Distinguished Lecture, 6:30 p.m., Sanford School of Public Policy

Speaker: Historian Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Harvard University, co-editor of “From Slavery to Freedom”

  • Oct. 30: World Premiere Commission for JHF 100th, 8 p.m., Baldwin Auditorium, Duke University

Composer: Frederic Rzewski; Musicians: Imani Winds and Fisk Jubilee Singers

  • Nov. 5-7: John Hope Franklin Centenary Symposium, Nasher Museum of Art & John Hope Franklin Center

Speaker: Drew Faust, president, Harvard University

jhf and wife
John Hope and Aurelia Franklin were married in 1940

Franklin’s 1947 book, “From Slavery to Freedom,” completed while he taught at what is now North Carolina Central University, transformed the literature of American history, selling more than 3 million copies. Through that work, and additional volumes, Franklin has been credited with helping to create the field of African American history. He was perhaps best known for his work as chairman of Clinton’s 1997 national advisory board on race. Franklin passed on March 25, 2009, at age 94.

“On this, the 100th anniversary of John Hope Franklin's birth, we celebrate the life of a national hero. Born at the height of Jim Crow oppression, he embodied the struggle of black Americans to steadfastly resist white racism,” said William Chafe, Duke history professor emeritus and co-chair of the centenary organizing committee.

“No one did more to focus attention on the fundamental contradiction between racism and democracy, and in this year of his centenary, we celebrate -- and remember -- all he did to make us live up his dream of racial justice and dignity," Chafe said.

After years of teaching at North Carolina Central University, then-named North Carolina College for Negroes, Brooklyn College and the University of Chicago, Franklin came to Duke in 1982, where, for the last three decades of his life, he served as the James B. Duke Professor of History. He spent seven years as professor of legal history at the Duke Law School, where he has been honored with an endowed chair.

Internationally known, Franklin received numerous scholarly awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor. He served as president of several scholarly organizations including the Southern Historical Association, the American Historical Association and the Organization of American Historians. And he was the recipient of more than 130 honorary degrees. 

At Duke, Franklin's legacy has been honored in many ways. In 2001, Duke opened the John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary and International Studies, which became an intellectual home for the Franklin Humanities Institute, an initiative encouraging collaboration across disciplines. In 2006 he delivered Duke's commencement address. After celebrating his 90th birthday in January 2005, Duke held a symposium celebrating the 10th anniversary of the John Hope Franklin Collection of African & African American Documentation. The event also marked the publication of his autobiography, “Mirror to America.”

For more information on the John Hope Franklin Centenary, including updates and a complete listing of events, visit