Hopes for 2006: John Hope Franklin

John Hope Franklin

hide captionHistorian John Hope Franklin lives in Durham, N.C., near the John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary and International Studies at Duke University.

Tina Tennessen, NPR

The historian, soon to turn 91, says he always hopes for "a better life... not merely for me, but for all of us," adding: "The only way we can have real peace and happiness in this country and in the world is for everybody to have peace and happiness. And that's what I want."

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Debbie Elliott.

How do you measure a year? On this show, we measured the year in song, in literature, in poetry.

Unidentified Man: Ode to song. In the salt mines, I saw the salt in this shaker. I know you won't believe me, but there it sings, the salt sings, the skin of the salt mine sings with a mouth choking on dirt.

ELLIOTT: And we measured the year in votes, ballots bravely cast in Iraq and Afghanistan, ballots cast by Liberians who chose a woman to lead their state for the first time in African history. We measured the year in storms and earthquakes and bodies. We marked the day when the number of US military deaths in Iraq passed 2,000. We marked 80,000 dead from the Kashir quake, more than 200,000 from the tsunami. Historian John Hope Franklin noted them, too.

Dr. JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN (Historian): When we see disasters, whether it's a tsunami in Asia or a hurricane in Louisiana, we tend to look and react but without being deeply involved in our reaction and without asking ourselves what is it we can do not merely to ease the misery but to prevent the disaster again. And we simply sit and that is from my point of view not enough for an advanced civilized people.

ELLIOTT: And when John Hope Franklin speaks of advancement, you can hear the echoes of his own life. A highly regarded historian, a black man who worked in the Jim Crow South, Franklin first spoke with us in October about his autobiography "Mirror to America." He told us then that his mother taught him a lesson about racism early on, never to cry but to defy.

Quite frankly, I find that an amazing spirit.

Dr. FRANKLIN: Well, I know something they don't know.

ELLIOTT: What's that?

Dr. FRANKLIN: That I'm as good as they are, and that stands me in good stead. And I know something, too, that they don't know apparently, that little by little, chip by chip, you can change things. If Michelangelo can make David out of a piece of marble, we might be able to make civilized human beings out of this vast quantity of human existence that we have before us. And I'm willing to keep on trying.

ELLIOTT: That same spirit and those same high demands were evident when we spoke to John Hope Franklin last week about his hopes for the coming year.

Dr. FRANKLIN: My hopes have always been for a better life, not merely for me but for all of us. I want the people in China, all the people in Egypt, all the people in Israel, all the people in Europe to be as safe and as sound as I want the people in this country to be. And in that way I'm sort of set in my ways; I'm stuck on that score. The only way we can have real peace and happiness in this country and in the world is for everybody to have peace and happiness and that's what I want and that's what I've wanted and I hope that's what I will always want.

ELLIOTT: John Hope Franklin turns 91 on January 2nd.

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