Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Tragic Loss for Historians, Race Scholars, and Activists

Yesterday we lost a pillar of the scholarly community. John Hope Franklin, Professor Emeritus of History and at Duke University and Professor of Legal History at Duke Law School, passed away on March 25. Franklin was the rock of the modern African-America studies movement, an award-winning author and researcher, and a member of the NAACP Legal Defense fund led by Thurgood Marshall that litigated the Brown v. Board of Education case.

Franklin was the first Black to hold an endowed chair at Duke and the first Black President of the American Historical Association. President Barack Obama offered the following comment: ''Dr. Franklin will be deeply missed, but his legacy is one that will surely endure.'' The New York Times has run a powerful obituary that may be read here.

His seminal text, From Slavery to Freedom, was required reading for many an undergraduate. I remember distinctly the first time I opened the text and felt the harsh legacy of slavery come alive. It is a text as crisp as it is informative and perhaps the greatest text on slavery yet written. Franklin was a prolific scholar, publishing some of the greatest texts on slavery.

Although I never had the privilege of meeting Dr. Franklin, I feel in some small part guided by his attention to detail and his passionate pursuit of justice. Franklin told the Associated Press in 1995: ''I want to be out there on the firing line, helping, directing or doing something to try to make this a better world, a better place to live."

These are words we can all take to heart. In studying the law, and hip-hop's relationship to it are not we simply looking for a way to make the world better? Should not the goal of activism, scholarship, and thought be to make the world a better place to live? Dr. Franklin walked the walk and along that journey he taught many of us what it meant to be a scholar and what we could do to make our position in the world one of activism and struggle.

- Nick J. Sciullo

(Photo by Derek Anderson/The New York Times)

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