John Hope Franklin: Timeline

January 2, 1915: John Hope Franklin is born in Rentiesville, Oklahoma to Buck Colbert Franklin and Mollie Lee Franklin. John Hope is the fourth child of Buck and Mollie Franklin. Rentiesville is an all black town, despite the fact that Franklin's parents were ardent integrationalists. The Franklin family is happy there, but life is made difficult by religious politics. Buck Franklin makes the decision to move the family to Tulsa. He establishes a thriving law practice there and by 1925 he sends for the rest of the family to join him.

1921: Race riots erupt in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Scores are killed when whites, enraged by the success of black businessmen, burn the black section of Tulsa to the ground. Although Buck Franklin is unhurt, he loses everything in the riots. His rented home, all of his clothes, his offices and his records are destroyed. It will be four more years before Buck Franklin is ready to move the entire family.

1922: While travelling from Rentiesville to a nearby town, Mollie and her children accidentally board an all-white compartment on a train. Mollie Franklin protests when the conductor tells her she will have to move her young children while the train is moving. The train is stopped and the Franklins are sent off. John Hope recalls this moment as a defining point at which he dedicated himself to ending segregation.

1931: John Hope Franklin enrolls at the all-black Fisk University in the fall of 1931 at the age of 16. The fact that his brother attended Fisk was, Franklin has said, one of the reasons he chose the university. It is at Fisk that Franklin met Aurelia Whittington, a North Carolina native and his future wife.

1934: In the spring of John Hope Franklin's junior year, a black man living near the college is abducted by a white mob and lynched.

1935: Unable to attend his first choice, the University of Oklahoma, because it is an all-white institution, John Hope Franklin is left to ponder his options. Although he had been accepted at Harvard, he was, at the time, unable to afford the $400 tuition. Ted Currier, a white historian and Franklin's mentor, stepped in to make certain that Franklin would attend Harvard. Currier borrowed the money from a bank and sent Franklin to Boston where, one year later, he earns his Masters degree.

1939: Franklin begins researching his dissertation on free African-Americans in North Carolina. When he arrived at the North Carolina state archives he discovered that there were no segregated facilities set up. They prepared a room for Franklin alone but were unable to find a page willing to serve him. Franklin was given a key to the stacks and was forced to get his own material until the other researchers objected. It is this year that Franklin becomes a professor of history at Saint Augustine's college.

August 11, 1940: John Hope Franklin and Aurelia Whittington are married in Goldsboro, North Carolina.

1941: In the wake of Japan's surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Navy advertises for emergency enlistment. Inspired, John Hope attempts to enlist, only to be told that because he is black he will not be given duties that a white enlistee with his qualifications would be given. Piqued, Franklin decides never to serve in the Armed Forces and spends the rest of World War II avoiding service. Franklin's brother Buck serves until the end of the war, but never sees combat. It is also in 1941 that Franklin receives his PhD from Harvard.

1943: Franklin joins the North Carolina College for Negroes, later renamed North Carolina Central University, as a professor of history.

1944: Towards the end of World War II, publishers at Knopf approach Franklin with a proposal to publish a book of African-American history. While Franklin was leery at first, he eventually accedes and, in 1945, begins work on "From Slavery to Freedom."

1947: After 13 months of work, "From Slavery to Freedom" is published. The book is well received but Franklin's life is difficult. His brother Buck, suffering from emotional breakdowns, dies at an early age. John Hope points to his brother's experiences in the segregated Armed Services as a contributing factor in his early death. It is also in 1947 that John Hope becomes a professor at the prestigious, all-black Howard University. Howard, located in segregated Washington, D.C., is, at that time, the pinnacle of many African-Americans' teaching careers.

1952: John Whittington Franklin, the only child of Aurelia and John Hope Franklin, is born.

1953: Franklin works with Thurgood Marshall on Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. This case, decided by the Supreme Court in 1954, begins the long, painful process of integration in America.

1956: John Hope becomes the first black historian given a full-time post at a white institution when he joins Brooklyn College as the chairman of the history department.


1982: Franklin returns to North Carolina when he accepts a teaching position as the James B. Duke Professor of history at Duke University. He teaches for three years before reaching retirement age and becoming a professor emeritus.

1987: Franklin testifies in Congress against the nomination of the conservative Robert Bork to the Supreme Court. Franklin felt that, given Bork's past, he would play an instrumental role in handing down unfavorable decisions on a variety of issues important to African-Americans. Franklin also opposed the later, successful nomination of Clarence Thomas. Thomas, he maintained, posed an equal danger to the African-American community.

1995: Franklin is awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Clinton. The Medal of Freedom is the highest honor an American civilian can receive from the president.

1997: President Clinton appoints Franklin to lead the Advisory Board to the President's Initiative on Race. The board is charged with appraising the condition of race relations in our country and where we should strive to be.

1998: After more than a year of interviews, testimony and town-hall meetings, the board releases its findings. But the board's suggestions are overshadowed by the scandal rocking the White House and the release of the Starr report. Franklin maintains that the board accomplished important objectives and opened a new dialogue on race, but critics have charged that the board did not do enough to consider the concerns of Latinos, Asians and Native Americans.

January 27, 1999: Aurelia Whittington Franklin dies after a long struggle with Alzheimer's disease.