Remembering John Hope Franklin

John Hope Franklin, professor emeritus of history, died Wednesday at Duke Hospital in Durham, NC. He was 94. James A. Rogerson, AM’69, PhD’80, shares his memories. Add your condolences below in the comments section.

I delivered a personal message to John Hope Franklin in 1967. At the request of my mother-in-law, I told him about the death of their mutual friend, the head reference librarian at the University of North Carolina’s Wilson Library, who helped him with his doctoral dissertation, The Free Negro in North Carolina, 1790-1860. Their friend had made space for Franklin to work in her office and retrieved materials for him when, by law, he wasn’t allowed to use the library’s materials.
After reminiscing, Franklin asked about my studies, and I told him about my research in Czechoslovak history. He asked why I chose this area, and I told him that after the betrayal at Munich in 1938, Czechoslovaks were referred to as “a people of whom we know nothing” by British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, and I did not want that to happen again. As a Southerner—from North Carolina—I wanted to understand racism in the American South. But I did not think that as a white Southerner, I could be objective. If I could understand racism in East-Central Europe, I decided, I could understand it everywhere.
After this first meeting, Franklin recommended me in 1970 for the University of Chicago doctoral program, and ten years later I completed my doctorate in East-Central European history.
The second time I met Franklin at the Levine Museum of the New South in Charlotte at a 2007 event. He was there to speak about his autobiography Mirror to America (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005). He signed my book, and I thanked him for his recommendation at the U of C. He was gracious, and we spent time catching up.
Looking back, I am one "redneck" who is grateful and proud that Franklin's reach was broad enough to include me.


March 31, 2009