MICHEL MARTIN, host:
Now we pause to remember a giant in the field of American history, John Hope Franklin. He passed away yesterday at the age of 94. He not only chronicled the African-American experience, he lived it. Franklin was born in Oklahoma to a family who lost everything in the Tulsa race riots. He rose to become one of the most prominent and prolific scholars of his generation. In his seminal work, "From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African-Americans", first published in 1947, he placed the African-American experience squarely in the American narrative. Franklin was also a respected public intellectual who strove to make his work a part of the American Lexicon.
He worked on the Supreme Court case that outlawed public school segregation: Brown vs. Board of Ed. He led President Clinton's National Advisory Board on race. He was passionate about history and its importance to the issues of the day.
Dr. FRANKLIN: We have to confront history. We have to face it down to be certain that it won't haunt us again. We have to be certain that the present is not a pawn of the past. And that the past is a root by which we learn how we ought to go in the future.
MARTIN: Franklin was also a mentor to many of the young scholars whose work is making an impact. Now joining me to talk more about John Hope Franklin's life and legacy, are two of his close friends and fellow scholars. Karla Holloway is a professor of English at Duke University. She and Franklin worked closely together. She's the Cofounder of John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary and International Studies. And David Levering Lewis - he's a Pulitzer Prize winning author and professor of History at New York University. I welcome you both and I thank you so much for joining us at what have to be a difficult time. My condolences on the loss of your friend.
Professor DAVID LEVERING LEWIS (New York University; Pulitzer Prize winner): Very Glad to be here.
Professor KARLA HOLLOWAY (Co-founder; John Hope Franklin Center): Thank you for having me.
MARTIN: David Levering Lewis, I would like to start with you. I would like you to help us understand John Hope Franklin's importance. What is that he did, that was so important as a scholar?
Prof. LEWIS: There had really been nothing like the book that John Hope Franklin wrote in 1942, "From Slavery to Freedom." Before that book appeared, there had been efforts to sum up the experience, the odyssey, of people of color in North America. Du Bois of course, W.E.B. Du Bois had made an impressive effort as had several others. But Franklin's synoptic history, beginning in 1619, and as it was amended as the years passed - I think perhaps, we're in the eight or ninth edition up to the day before yesterday - gave the full experience in its many dimensions - but handily so. Accessibly written, deeply sourced - indeed the documents at the end of "From Slavery to Freedom" gave graduate students perhaps all they needed to launch their own researches. It was a book that made black studies, as it was called in its initial period, or African American history - now called diasporic studies - gave it its launch pad. And so he really was seminal from that perspective of enabling a sub-field, an ignored field, to become indeed one of the primary pursuits of (unintelligible) research.
MARTIN: Professor Holloway, can you - do you remember when you first encountered his work, and if you'll indulge me, I want to tell you when I did. I remember keenly my seventh grade history textbook that said that - had one line about slavery, and it said that slavery, you know, the slaves were well treated because their masters cared about them.
And I remember thinking, this can't be right. And then, you know, as a high school student, encountering the work that we've been discussing, and thinking oh, you know, this sigh of so - you know, that my suspicions were correct. I had not been told the truth. So do you remember when you first encountered his work?
Prof. HOLLOWAY: I absolutely remember it because it was the second thickest book on my parents' den shelves. The other one was the Bible.
But I remember growing up and seeing that book there and eventually leafing through it myself, and the first edition, hard-bound is a think book, and I just remember being impressed that, as my father told me, who was a fan of historians, that one man wrote that book, one negro man, which was the day, the word of the time.
And I have to believe that my just astounding understanding of what it meant for him to regard John Hope Franklin with that honored place on the family den bookshelf meant a great deal to me and my own scholarly endeavors.
So I discovered the book before I discovered the man, and when I came to Duke University, my parents would always say that she's at John Hope Franklin's university, and that was enough for me to have earned some honor in the eye of my parents.
MARTIN: It should be mentioned he was the first African-American to chair a history department at a majority white institution. First, he was at Brooklyn College.
Prof. HOLLOWAY: Brooklyn College.
MARTIN: And then did some very important work at Duke, where you are now. I'd like to ask each of you in the couple of minutes that we have left, tell me about him as a man. Karla, you were talking about that. One of the things I think a lot of people noted about him, he always seemed to have this - he had this intensity, but great humor, which I think a lot of people found remarkable, given all that he'd experienced.
Prof. HOLLOWAY: Given that he was a man of such fierce intelligence, it was always a surprise for some to find his grace and good humor and his wit.
He was an enormously generous man, but what was a pervading sense of what those of us who knew him closely and loved him very much was his integrity. Whether he was talking about local events or global events, we knew that citizenship, that character mattered throughout his analyses.
Whether he was talking about our own lives and his expectations for that or our nation's life, he brought to it that same sense of integrity and character. But it didn't mean that he couldn't be humorous on occasion, but sometimes it was a wry humor.
MARTIN: David Levering Lewis, what are your memories of him as a man, as a person?
Prof. LEWIS: Well, I visited John Hope Franklin at Brooklyn College the year he became the chair of the history department there, and this was such a notable event in race relations and in scholarship that I think it was announced on the front page of the New York Times.
I knew of him because we shared a professor, a history professor, at Fisk University, one who had influenced my life and the course which it followed, and I knew that John Hope Franklin had become a historian in large part because of the influence of this remarkable history professor.
And so to meet him, the flesh-and-blood man, I entered into his office as though into something of a sanctuary. Well, he soon dispelled that kind of reverential atmosphere that was in my mind, and as Karla says, he was a wonderful combination of gravitas and levity.
Those two words really are antonyms, and yet they do express his personality, which was one that always addressed major issues in a kind of demotic way.
One understood why they were important. You not only understood the issue, but you understood why the issue had to matter.
John was perhaps a precursor of this much bandied-about term, public intellectual. Before that tripped off everybody's tongue to describe lots of people, he had already ventured from the narrow…
MARTIN: Ivory tower. I'll say it, ivory tower.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Prof. LEWIS: …ivory tower, and into marching from Selma to Montgomery with Martin Luther King. And before that, of course, leading a group of historians to ascertain what was in the minds of the congressional authors of the constitutional amendments, 14th and 15th, in order to strengthen the argument of the NAACP before the Supreme Court.
And of course with the conversation on race enterprise that President Clinton…
MARTIN: Held in 1997, sure. Forgive me for jumping in. We only have about 50 seconds left, and I wanted to give Professor Holloway one final thought. We've described so many things, historian, writer, activist, public intellectual, friend. Which of those attributes do you think you'll remember most, Professor Holloway?
Prof. HOLLOWAY: I think that you have to remember each and every one of them because he was a complicated and a - a citizen of the world. He made sure that his intelligence and interest reached far beyond the local to the global, and yet he was loved. That's what I'll remember about him.
MARTIN: And unfortunately, we have to leave it there. Professor Karla Holloway, a professor at Duke University, was kind enough to join us from the studios of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. David Levering Lewis, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, professor of history at NYU, was kind enough to join us from our studios in New York. I thank you both so much for your reflections at this difficult time. Thank you so much.
Prof. HOLLOWAY: You're welcome, and thank you.
Prof. LEWIS: Our privilege. $00.00