The late John Hope Franklin, considered by many to be one of the greatest historians of the twentieth century, was honored by the hanging of his portrait in the rotunda of the State Capitol in Oklahoma City.
The portrait was painted by New York City artist Everett Raymond Kinstler. Seven presidents have posed for portraits by Kinstler.
John Hope Franklin was born in Rentiesville, Oklahoma, in 1915. His grandfather had been a slave. His father was one of the first black lawyers in Oklahoma. His mother was a schoolteacher. Franklin was named after John Hope, the former president of Morehouse College and Atlanta University.
Franklin attended racially segregated schools in Oklahoma. He was valedictorian of his high school class. He wanted to attend the University of Oklahoma but at that time, and for many years later, the state’s flagship university was closed to blacks.
In 1931 Franklin enrolled at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, with the intention of studying law. However, at Fisk, Franklin became a history buff under the mentorship of white professor Theodore Currier. After Franklin graduated from Fisk, Currier lent him the money to pay for graduate study at Harvard University. Franklin earned his master’s degree in 1936 and his doctorate five years later in 1941.
After completing his dissertation, Franklin taught at the North Carolina College for Negroes, now known as North Carolina Central University in Durham. In 1947 Franklin was named to the faculty at Howard University in Washington, D.C. While there he worked with Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund working on briefs for cases that included Brown v. Board of Education.
His seminal work, From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans, originally published in 1947, is still in print and is widely assigned in college history courses nationwide.
In 1956 John Hope Franklin was hired to chair the department of history at Brooklyn College in New York.
In 1964 Franklin joined the faculty at the University of Chicago. He remained there for 16 years before accepting a position at Duke University. He later spent seven years on the faculty of Duke Law School. He retired from teaching in 1992.
John Hope Franklin died on March 25, 2009. He was 94 years old.