Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Remembering John Hope Franklin

Clarence Hunter, the archivist at Tougaloo College during my time there, used to tell me stories about historian John Hope Franklin’s days teaching at Howard University. In fact, one of my main reasons for hanging out in the archives at Tougaloo was to hear stories about John Hope Franklin and various other black scholars and activists.

Also while an undergrad, I spent a semester studying at New York University. In retrospect, a really significant aspect of my education occurred outside the classroom context, most notably in the conversations I had with this wonderful independent scholar Donald Garcia. He was versed in (and versing me to) the writings of a broad range of folks like DuBois and bell hooks, Robeson and Cornel West, John Henrik Clarke, and of course John Hope Franklin.

Several years ago at a conference, John Hope Franklin was one of the speakers. It was awe-inspiring to see him in person, and at the same time, it felt like a quite natural experience. After all, my long relationship with his book From Slavery to Freedom, not to mention those narratives I heard about him, had long convinced me that I was somehow one of his students already anyway.

Whatever the case, after reading the news today of John Hope Franklin’s passing, I decided to post those brief reflections. It seems especially fitting to mention him here in this space given the focus of his life’s work. Indeed, John Hope Franklin was doing black studies work more than 20 years before it was referred to as “Black Studies.”

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