John Hope Franklin papers, 1891-2010, bulk 1950-2010

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Franklin, John Hope, 1915-2009 and John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture
John Hope Franklin was a historian specializing in Southern and African American history. The papers document his entire career as well as his personal life and political interests: his prolific writings on African American and Southern history; his role as a mentor and colleague, including his time as professor at Duke University; his role in associations such as Phi Beta Kappa, the American Historical Association, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, and others; his participation in the civil rights movement, including his work with the NAACP Legal and Educational Defense Fund, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and Justice Thurgood Marshall; and his engagement with numerous civic, community, and educational organizations such as the Board of Foreign Scholarships and Fisk University's Board of Trustees. There is also a significant amount of material from Franklin's work on President Clinton's Advisory Board for the President's Initiative on Race in 1997 and 1998. Items in the collection include files of correspondence in original order; research sources and notes; writings by and about Franklin; materials relating to family history; papers and diaries of other family members, including his father, and wife, Aurelia; printed material; event folders; many informal and publicity photographs; video and sound recordings; and awards and other memorabilia. Acquired as part of the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture at Duke University.
306 Linear Feet
Materials in English.
Collection ID:


Scope and content:

The John Hope Franklin papers document the whole of Franklin's professional career as a historian, as well as his personal life, early student years, and political interests. Collection materials include correspondence, research materials assembled by Franklin, writings by and about Franklin, drafts of writings, materials relating to family history, printed material, notebooks, information and multimedia packets, clippings, photographs, video and sound recordings, as well as a few artifacts. The collection was acquired as part of the John Hope Franklin Center for African and African American History and Culture.

The Academics series chronicles Franklin's career as a professor of history. It includes materials documenting his role as a mentor and advisor to numerous undergraduate and graduate students, his lecture notes and other classroom materials, and his administrative and committee work at various institutions, including Brooklyn College, University of Chicago, and Duke University. Portions of this series are restricted.

The series on the Advisory Board for the President's Initiative on Race contains items Franklin gathered during his work on President Clinton's race initiative, "One America in the 21st Century." The bulk of the series dates from the year-long work of the Advisory Board, from 1997 to 1998, and primarily comprises items sent to the Board for consideration in its work, meeting materials, publicity, and scholarly materials.

The videos and sound recordings in the Audiovisual series were created or assembled by John Hope Franklin. The series has been arranged into three subseries: ABPIR Materials, Recordings of Franklin, and Recordings of Others. Originals in the Audiovisual Materials Series are closed to use. Use copies are available for some items. Please contact Research Services staff in advance before coming to use this series.

The Correspondence series is one of the largest series in the collection, and comprises personal and professional correspondence received and sent by Franklin throughout his adult life.

The Engagements series includes invitations, correspondence, programs, and itineraries related to Franklin's participation in scholarly, civic, and social events. These materials have been arranged chronologically.

Franklin's Honors and Awards series includes certificates and diplomas, as well as logistical and administrative documentation for many of the awards ceremonies. The series is divided into Honorary Degrees and General Awards, both sorted in chronological order.

The Personal and Family Materials series contains the earliest items in the collection, with materials from Franklin's parents and grandparents. It includes files documenting Franklin's life and interests outside of his scholarship and public service. Materials are arranged by family member, with Franklin's wife, Aurelia, and his father, Buck Colbert Franklin, heavily represented. Also contains papers related to Theodore Currier, Franklin's mentor; John Hope eventually served as an executor of his estate.

The Research, Biographical, and Subject Files series contains newspaper clippings, subject files, travel guides, and photocopies of Franklin's FBI file. Also contains publicity and newspaper coverage of Franklin's many interviews and public appearances throughout the twentieth century.

The large Service series includes files acquired through Franklin's government, professional, and community service with various organizations and projects. Materials range from the early 1950s through the 2000s and are arranged alphabetically by organization or project name.

Franklin's prolific writing career is documented in the Writings series, which includes materials on his many books, articles, speeches, book reviews, essays, interviews, and other works, many unpublished. A portion of this series is restricted; please contact the Rubenstein Library for more information.

The Writings by Others series documents the ongoing relationship Franklin had with other authors and historians. It includes correspondence, drafts, and printed materials. Files are arranged alphabetically by author.

Biographical / historical:

John Hope Franklin was born on January 2, 1915, in Rentiesville, Oklahoma. He was the youngest of four children born to Buck Colbert Franklin, an attorney, and Mollie Parker Franklin, a teacher. In 1925, the family moved to Tulsa. Franklin graduated from Booker T. Washington High School in 1931, at age sixteen. He attended Nashville's Fisk University, where he received his B.A. in History in 1935. With the financial help of his undergraduate mentor, Professor Theodore S. Currier, Franklin continued his education at Harvard University, becoming the first African American graduate student in the Department of History. He received his M.A. in 1936 and completed his Ph.D. in 1941. During that time, Franklin taught briefly at Fisk University before accepting a position at St. Augustine's College in Raleigh, NC in 1939. In 1940, Franklin married his wife, Aurelia Whittington Franklin. The two had met as classmates at Fisk, and were married for 59 years. Their son, John Whittington Franklin, was born in 1952.

In 1943, Franklin published his first book, The Free Negro in North Carolina, 1790-1860, and joined the History Department at the North Carolina College for Negroes in Durham (now North Carolina Central University). During his tenure there, he began research for From Slavery to Freedom: A History of American Negroes, a seminal text on African American history. The book was first published in 1947 and has remained in print since. That same year, Franklin received an appointment at Howard University in Washington, DC. It was in Washington that Franklin met prominent white historian, C. Vann Woodward. Soon after, the two integrated the 1949 meeting of the Southern Historical Association. While at Howard, Franklin joined other prominent historians and assisted the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund school desegregation case, Brown vs. Board of Education.

In 1956, Brooklyn College, a predominantly white institution, appointed Franklin as Chairman of the Department of History. Franklin made headlines as the first African American appointed chair in any department at a traditionally white institution. In the course of his tenure in Brooklyn, where he served until 1965, Franklin published three books: The Militant South, 1800-1860 (1956), Reconstruction after the Civil War (1961), and The Emancipation Proclamation (1963). He spent the 1963 school year as the Pitt Professor of American History at St. Johns College in Cambridge University.

In 1964, Franklin joined the faculty at the University of Chicago. He was the Chairman of the History Department from 1967 to 1970 and the John Matthews Manly Distinguished Service Professor from 1969 to 1982. While at the University of Chicago, Franklin served as the President of the Southern Historical Society, the Organization of American Historians, and the American Historical Association. In addition to leading prestigious scholarly organizations, Franklin also served on the National Council on the Humanities from 1976 to 1982, and published Color and Race (1969) and Racial Equality in America (1979). He became Professor Emeritus at UC in 1982.

Franklin and his wife Aurelia retired to North Carolina in 1981 where he served for one year as a fellow with the National Humanities Center in Research Triangle Park. In 1982, he joined Duke University's faculty as the James B. Duke Professor of History. He was the first African American to hold an endowed chair at Duke. Upon reaching the mandatory retirement age in 1985, he retired for a second time to Professor Emeritus in a History Department and became Professor of Legal History at Duke, a position he held until 1992. During that time, he published George Washington Williams: A Biography (1985) and Race and History, Selected Essays (1989).

During the 1990s, Franklin received numerous awards and honorary degrees in recognition of his groundbreaking scholarship, academic service, and dedication to teaching. In 1995, President William Clinton awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Clinton also appointed Franklin to chair the Advisory Board on the President's Initiative on Race from 1997 to 1998.

Well into his late 70s and 80s, Franklin continued his research and writing with The Color Line: Legacy for the Twenty-First Century (1993) and My Life and an Era: The Autobiography of Buck Colbert Franklin, which he edited with his son, John Whittington Franklin. Franklin published two more scholarly works with historian Loren Scwheninger, Runaway Slaves: Rebels on the Plantation (1999) and In Search of the Promised Land: a Slave Family in the Old South (2005). His last book was his own autobiography, Mirror to America: the Autobiography of John Hope Franklin, published in 2005.

Franklin died on March 25, 2009, in Durham, North Carolina. He was 94 years old.

Date Event
1915 Jan. 2
Born in Rentiesville, OK, to Buck Colbert and Mollie Franklin
B.A. in History, Fisk University
1940, June 11
Married Aurelia E. Whittington, librarian
Appointed to the History faculty at St. Augustine's College, Raleigh, NC
Taught at NC College for Negroes (now NC Central University), Durham, NC
Ph.D. in History, Harvard University
Published seminal work, From Slavery to Freedom: A History of American Negroes
Taught at Howard University, Washington, DC
Traveled to Austria as a lecturer for the summer Salzburg Seminar in American Studies; with Aurelia Franklin, visited other European cities as tourist
Birth of John "Whit" Whittington Franklin
Commissioned by Thurgood Marshall, then legal counselor for the NAACP, to research and write a series of articles for the upcoming Brown vs. Board of Education hearings
Taught at Brooklyn College and chaired the History Department
Traveled to Australia on a Fulbright Award, lecturing on African American history and race relations in the U.S.
Taught at Cambridge University as the Pitt Professor of American History and Institutions
Taught at the University of Chicago
Joint appointment to the Duke University faculty History Department and Law School
Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton
Chaired President Clinton's Advisory Board for the President's Initiative on Race (ABPIR)
Published Mirror to America: The Autobiography of John Hope Franklin
2009 March 25
Died in Durham, NC
Acquisition information:
The John Hope Franklin Papers were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book Manuscript Library as a gift between 1996 and 2019.
Processing information:

Processed and encoded by Elizabeth Arnold, Ruth Bryan, Erin Foster, Anna Kivlan, Meghan Lyon, Paula Jeannet, Rachel Penniman, Craig Breaden, and other RL Staff, 2007-2021.

Accession(s) represented in this collection guide: all accessions from 1996 to 2002, as well as 2004-0347, 2007-0159, 2008-0074, 2008-0999, 2009-0232, 2012-0102, 2013-0148, 2017-0008, 2019-0029, and 2020-0073.


Arranged in the following series: Academia; Advisory Board for the President's Initiative on Race; Audiovisual Materials; Correspondence; Engagements; Honors and Awards; Personal and Family Materials; Research, Biographical, and Subject Files; Service; Writings; and Writings by Others.

Rules or conventions:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard


Click on terms below to find related finding aids on this site. For other related materials in the Duke University Libraries, search for these terms in the Catalog.

African American authors
African American college teachers
African American historians
African Americans -- History -- Study and teaching
African Americans -- Intellectual life
African Americans -- Personal narratives
African Americans -- United States -- History
Historians -- Correspondence
Historians -- United States
Presidents -- United States -- Racial attitudes
Race riots -- Oklahoma -- Tulsa
Racism -- United States -- History
Segregation -- United States -- History
Audiovisual materials
Moving images
Color films (visual works)
Digital audio formats
Digital moving image formats
Sound recordings
Brooklyn College. Dept. of History
John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture
President's Initiative on Race (U.S.). Advisory Board
United States. Board of Foreign Scholarships
NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund
Fisk University. Board of Trustees
American Historical Association
Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History
Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies (U.S.)
University of Chicago. Dept. of History
Duke University. Department of History
Franklin, Aurelia Elizabeth
Currier, Theodore S.
Franklin, John Hope, 1915-2009
Franklin, Buck Colbert, 1879-1960
Cox, Courtland, 1941-
Tutu, Desmond
Durham (N.C.) -- History
Southern States -- History
United States -- Race relations


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Access note. Original audiovisual materials are closed to use. Contact Research Services to request reformatting for use copies.

Access restricted: Some speeches and articles written by Franklin are restricted and require permission from the Franklin family prior to use. Contact Research Services for assistance.

Terms of access:

The copyright interests in this collection have not been transferred to Duke University. For more information, consult the copyright section of the Regulations and Procedures of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

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Preferred citation:

[Identification of item], John Hope Franklin Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.