The Paula Gordon Show Logo The Paula Gordon Show
Hope for the Future

John Hope Franklin

     ... distinguished historian. Among the United States’ preeminent historians, Dr. Franklin is an American historian and scholar. Also a life-long activist, Dr. Franklin was awarded America’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, for his enduring commitment to civil rights. His autobiography, Mirror to America, written at age 90 combines his experience as an African-American with his professional assessment of America’s 20th century fight for civil rights. Earning his PhD at Harvard in 1941, Dr. Franklin is now Duke University's James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of History. He served his profession as President of all three of its major historical associations, has countless awards from around the world and chaired the advisory board to President Clinton's Initiative on Race.


Americans are in urgent need of a good look in the mirror, says eminent American historian John Hope Franklin. While the country is supposed to be spreading democracy throughout the world, Dr. Franklin reminds us America has significant faults in its own democratic ship of state.

If the people of American are not active in pressing our case for whatever it is we want to be, Dr. Franklin cautions, we will no longer be either sovereign or independent. We will instead be led around by the nose by a small number of people making all the decisions, he says.

Dr. Franklin’s role as one of America’s preeminent historian intersects with his lifelong commitment to activism -- we have to use our history to help us understand where we’ve been, where we are and where we are likely to go, he says.

For starters, Dr. Franklin’s sobering stories include a sharp reminder that Americans still do not elect their President. The nation’s history has repeatedly been drastically altered when Electoral College decisions have overridden the popular vote and there’s nothing stopping that happening again.

Or consider America’s unfinished business on race.

From America’s beginning, when the first Africans arrived in 1619 down to the present moment, one argument has been handed down by those justifying oppression -- slaves and those descended from slaves were and are inferior. Dr. Franklin says can recite the litany of incremental changes over the centuries, which he neither decries nor criticizes. It’s the stories he tells from his own life and from across America’s history that confirm his conclusion: the change was never enough to bring about real and true equality.

Dr. Franklin worked with (future Supreme Court Justice) Thurgood Marshall on the seminal “Brown versus the Board of Education” case which outlawed segregation. Dr. Franklin says he’ll never forget when the Supreme Court handed down its unanimous decision in May, 1954. But they celebrated knowing full well that opponents of the decision were actively plotting ways to continue segregation ... and succeeding.

How could Ronald Reagan be hailed as an icon at his death, when it was Reagan’s cynical 1980 Presidential campaign launch in Philadelphia, Mississippi -- famous only for the murders of civil rights workers -- that signaled Reagan and the Republicans’ willingness to tolerate a dramatic retreat on racial issues?  How can shameful segregation persist in America’s schools 50 years after “Brown versus the Board”? Bad history, that's how.

One thing rings true -- Americans are not telling or being told the truth about who we are and where we’ve come from. And if our past doesn’t help us understand the present, Dr. Franklin concludes, there’s something dangerously wrong with our history. It’s time to question it, revise it and put both our history and our democratic ideals to work. Again.

[This Program was recorded November 4, 2005, in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.]

Conversation 1

Dr. John Hope Franklin recounts for Paula Gordon and Bill Russell the many ways “John Hope Franklin” represents leadership, education and a lifetime of activism, pitting hope against injustice in pursuit of a brighter future.

Conversation 1 RealAudio8:15 

Conversation 2

Always do your very best, whatever the circumstance, Dr. Franklin counsels. He honors all those who contributed to his lifetime of remarkable achievements, including Thurgood Marshall with whom he worked on the historic "Brown vs. the Board of Education" case. Tell the truth about America, Dr. Franklin urges, highlighting political cynics like Ronald Reagan who launched his 1980 Presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, signaling Republican willingness to condone continuing segregation.  Dr. Franklin defines “historian”.

Conversation 1 RealAudio11:41 

Conversation 3

Supreme Court decisions can be wrong, Dr. Franklin reminds us, citing the painful need for “Brown v. Board” to reverse “Plessy v. Ferguson”.  His examples from Civil Rights, Voting Rights and Women’s Rights make clear how vital it is that every American understand both history and the workings of government. If regular people are not active, we will no longer be sovereign or independent he says, opposed to a small number of people leading America around by the nose, whether aristocrats, monarch or dictator. Dr. Franklin enumerates fundamental holes in American democracy.

Conversation 1 RealAudio11:11 

Conversation 4

From the arrival of the first Africans in America in 1619, the country always treated them as “different” to justify the slavery endorsed almost unanimously, Dr. Franklin reports. Increments of change, however worthy, have never been enough to bring about real and true equality, he says, recognizing the courage of Abolitionist John Brown in his heroic commitment to ending slavery. Words are important, Dr. Franklin agrees, but they must be accompanied by action. He cites Thomas Jefferson’s monumental failure to free his slaves (including his own children), which eviscerated the words he penned in the Declaration of Independence.  The work of President Clinton’s Advisory Board on Race is revisited.

Conversation 1 RealAudio12:48 

Conversation 5

Dr. Franklin, who has received America’s highest honors, gives vivid examples of how manipulative and NOT-free America’s media is.  Citing the egregious failure of the “New York Times” to accurately report the work of the Presidential Advisory Board on Race, Dr. Franklin urges everyone to be skeptical of media reports, no matter how powerful or humble. Ask Questions! he says, and hold the media to account.

Conversation 1 RealAudio11:08 

Conversation 6

America needs to look at itself, Dr. Franklin believes. Hold up the mirror and decide what we do and do not like about what we see -- vast numbers of people who hate America, undemocratic elections, a President vast numbers of people in the world believe is unfair and not acting in the world’s best interest? Dr. Franklin encourages young people, including those in the audience at Atlanta’s New Schools at Carver, to make things better wherever they are.

Dr. John Hope Franklin

(1915 — 2009)

Our world has been diminished by his passing and enriched by his having lived among us.

John Hope Franklin was a brave man, a brilliant historian and a consummate gentleman.  As much as anyone, he forced America to engage its past and struggle to move into a futute untainted by ignorance, racism and prejudice.

We had the great pleasure and honor of talking with Dr. Franklin in 2005 at Atlanta's New Schools at Carver.

Paula has added a short observance about Dr. Franklin's life on the Huffington Post.

wise beyond his years and his years were many


Everyone at the Atlanta Public Schools’ pioneering New Schools at Carver -- faculty, staff, administration and especially the students -- was wonderfully welcoming to us. Dr. Franklin particularly enjoyed his visit to this unique combination of history and innovation. The hard work of transforming this high school is bearing fruit and we are honored to have a very small part in their promising progress. We thank everyone involved, from Superindent Beverly Hall to the facilities manager, with special thanks to Dr. Darian Jones and Dr. Marvin Pryor.

We join Dr. Franklin in urging students everywhere – remember to fulfill your responsibilities as citizens as you work toward your dreams for personal accomplishment. If "We, The People of the United States of America" are to hold onto our sovereignty in the face of elites intent on ruling us, the two are inseparable.

Related Links:

Mirror to America is published in both hardcover and paperback by Farrar Straus Giroux.

You can find a short biography of Dr. Franklin and learn more about the Advisory Board which Dr. Franklin chaired for President Clinton’s Initiative on Race at the One America website. A pdf file of the Board’s final report is also available on the site.

Dr. Franklin joined us and students at Atlanta’s pioneering public high school, the New Schools at Carver. Learn more about its innovations and successes.

There's more information about the New Schools at Carver on their developing website.

Over the years, many of our conversations have focused on civil rights, the history and future of race in America and other closely related subjects:  Simon Schama, Taylor Branch (twice), Richard Slotkin, David Halberstam, RIchard Rodriguez, Randall Kennedy, Edward Ball, Cornel West (twice), Iris Chang, Mark Curriden & LeRoy Phillips, Jason DeParle, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Lani Guinier, Darlene Clark Hine, Elizabeth Lasch-Quinn, John Lewis, Orlando Patterson, David Reynolds, Joseph Roberts and Gail Buckley.

Quick buttons

© 2006 The Paula Gordon Show.
All materials contained on this website are copyrighted by The Paula Gordon Show and may not be used for any commercial purpose without the express, written consent of Paula Gordon. Non-commercial use is permitted and encouraged provided that credit is given to The Paula Gordon Show, appropriate urls cited, links are provided where possible and meaning is not altered by editing.