John Hope Franklin lived through America’s most defining twentieth-century transformation, the dismantling of legally protected racial segregation. A renowned scholar, he has explored that transformation in its myriad aspects, notably in his 3.5-million-copy bestseller, From Slavery to Freedom. Born in 1915, he, like every other African American, could not help but participate: he was evicted from whites-only train cars, confined to segregated schools, threatened—once with lynching—and consistently subjected to racism’s denigration of his humanity. Yet he managed to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard; become the first black historian to assume a full professorship at a white institution, Brooklyn College; and be appointed chair of the University of Chicago’s history department and, later, John B. Duke Professor at Duke University. He has reshaped the way African American history is understood and taught and become one of the world’s most celebrated historians, garnering over 130 honorary degrees. But Franklin’s participation was much more fundamental than that.
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