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John Hope Franklin, From Greenwood to the White House

John Hope Franklin with Bill and Hillary Clinton. Image from the Washington Post.On September 29, 1995, President Bill Clinton awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, to John Hope Franklin of Durham.

A pioneering historian who focused on the social and economic conditions of African Americans, A native Oklahoman Franklin was educated at Fisk and Harvard before moving to North Carolina in 1939 to teach at St. Augustine’s and North Carolina Central. He taught elsewhere and returned in 1982 to join the history faculty at Duke, where he remained until his death in 2009.

Not just a historian, Franklin helped shape American history. His research formed the historical basis for the groundbreaking NAACP brief that led to the Supreme Court’s dismantling of school segregation in the 1954 Brown v. Board decision and, in 1965, Franklin joined a cadre of academics who supported Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the Selma to Montgomery civil rights march.

During the course of his long career, Franklin wrote more than 15 books and received honorary degrees from almost 100 institutions. His 1947 book From Slavery to Freedom is still widely regarded as the best single-volume history of African Americans and has sold more than 3 million copies.

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