On Wednesday, groundbreaking historian John Hope Franklin took his last breath.
On January 15, a birthday he shared with legendary civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., he had turned 94 years old.
Franklin tells the story of his remarkable life, albeit in a typically understated fashion, in Mirror To America: The Autobiography of John Hope Franklin.
This clearly written and insightful book starts with Franklin’s humble beginnings in an all-black community in Oklahoma, where he endured humiliating experiences because of his race. Mirror to America continues hrough his education at Fisk University, his doctoral work at Harvard University and his long, distinguished and acclaimed career as an historian.
Mirror to America makes it clear that Franklin took seriously his role as historian and saw as part of his professional responsibility the importance of including the history of black people in America as a central, rather than peripheral part of the American story.
From Slavery to Freedom is his most well known and widely circulated book.
First published in 1947, the work was repeatedly updated in the following six decades. By some estimates it had sold at least three million copies. The book helped contribute to the ultimately successful efforts of Thurgood Marshall and the rest of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund to overturn segregation through the collection of cases known as Brown v. Board of Education.
In addition to his scholarship, Franklin broke color barriers as an adminstrator, too. He was the first black department chair at predominantly white Brooklyn College-a fact which inspired one of his mentees, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David Levering Lewis-and the first black president of the American Historical Association.
He remained civically engaged until his final days, endorsing Barack Obama for President in 2008.
Franklin received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor, in 1995. The nation is diminished by his loss but greatly enhanced by his socially committed and committed life.