“The very essence of the life of the mind is the freedom to inquire, to examine, and to criticize. But that freedom has the same restraints abroad that it has at home: to state one’s position, if impelled by personal conviction, with clarity, reason, and sobriety, always mindful of the point that the scholar recognizes and tolerates different views that others may hold and that his view is independent, not official.”
John Hope Franklin in The American Scholar, 1968
The eminent American historian and scholar John Hope Franklin died on Wednesday at the age of 94.
From “A Life of Learning”, Professor Franklin’s 1988 Charles Homer Haskins lecture:
My mother, an elementary school teacher, introduced me to the world of learning when I was three years old. Since there were no day-care centers in the village where we lived, she had no alternative to taking me to school and seating me in the rear where she could keep an eye on me. I remained quiet but presumably attentive, for when I was about five my mother noticed that on the sheet of paper she gave me each morning, I was no longer making lines and sketching out some notable examples of abstract art. I was writing words, to be sure almost as abstract as my art, and making sentences. My mother later said that she was not surprised much less astonished at what some, not she, would have called my precocity. Her only reproach — to herself, not me — was that my penmanship was hopelessly flawed since she had not monitored my progress as she had done for her enrolled students. From that point no, I would endeavor to write and through the written word to communicate my thoughts to others.
My interest in having some thoughts of my own to express was stimulated by my father who, among other tasks, practiced law by day and read and wrote by night. In the absence of any possible distractions in the tiny village, he would read or write something each evening. This was my earliest memory of him and, indeed, it was my last memory of him. Even after we moved to Tulsa, a real city, and after we entered the world of motion pictures, radio, and television, his study and writing habits remained unaffected. I grew up believing that in the evenings one either read or wrote. It was always to read something worthwhile, and if one worked t it hard enough he might even write something worthwhile. I continue to believe that. …
My mother no longer taught [after the family moved to Tulsa] but she saw to it that my sister and I completed all of our home assignments promptly. Quite often, moreover, she introduced us to some of the great writers, especially Negro authors, such as Paul Laurence Dunbar and James Weldon Johnson, who were not a part of our studies at school. She also told us about some of the world’s great music such as Handel’s Oratorio, “Esther”, in which she had sung in college. While the music at school was interesting and lively, especially after I achieved the position of first trumpet in the band and orchestra, there was no Handel or Mozart or Beethoven. We had a full fare of Victor Herbert and John Philip Sousa, and operettas, in more than one of which I sang the leading role.
Often after school I would go to my father’s office. By the time I was in high school, the depression had yielded few clients but ample time which he spent with me. It was he who introduced me to ancient Greece and Rome, and he delighted in quoting Plato, Socrates, and Pericles. We would then walk home together, and after dinner he went to his books and I went to mine. Under the circumstances, there could hardly have been a better way of life, since I had every intention after completing law school of some day becoming his partner. …
Read Prof. Franklin’s entire lecture here.
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Racial Equality in America by John Hope Franklin
Race and History: Selected Essays, 1938-1988 by John Hope Franklin
Mirror to America: The Autobiography of John Hope Franklin; a 2006 radio interview with JHF about his then-new memoir
From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African-Americans by John Hope Franklin, first published in 1947 and since updated several times
An audio file from the University of Virginia of JHF reading from his autobiography and poet Rita Dove reading from her work, “followed by a conversation between them on personal and cultural history”