death of preeminent historian and race scholar, John Hope Franklin,
and his life long contribution to helping America understand the
legacies of slavery and racial vestiges that have been carried forward
that still makes race the most entrenched socio-economic-political
issue of our society. John Hope Franklin’s life’s work was to reassemble
the fragmented history of the descendants of enslaved Africans and
interweave the buried, hidden and oft stolen contributions of enslaved
Africans and their American born descendants into American history.
We often say African American history is American history because
without the Africans that built, slaved and died for this country,
there would be no America.
Long before African American history was acknowledged as a discipline
worthy of study, and long before the history of African Americans
was deemed worthy of scholarly publication, Franklin’s From
Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans (2 Vols. in 1),
was viewed as the dominate work in the historiography of Black America.
The work is now over 50 years old, and is still the dominant text
for introduction to African American studies.
Unlike Frederick Douglass and W.E.B DuBois before him who documented
the black experience in the context of their own experience (study/advocacy),
John Hope Franklin was an astute observer of the American experience
and African Americans place in that experience. Yes, he was a part
of that experience also, yet he managed to relegate himself to the
role of historian until he was 90 years old - when he finally allowed
himself to be placed at the center of history in his own autobiography,
Franklin maintained that America could never escape its racial past until
it addressed its racial past. Not that it hasn’t tried. Reconstruction,
Desegregation, Integration, “Affirmative” Action, Colorblindness
were all eras to try to redeem the racial past. Only to be followed
by Redemption, Segregation, Anti-Busing, Angry White Male and Post-Affirmative
Action eras to remind us that race is real in America. President
Bill Clinton appointed a race commission to address the issue of
racial reconciliation in America. He appointed John Hope Franklin
to head his “Initiative On Race” Commission in 1997 and we thought
we almost there, until Bill went to Africa and refused to
apologize for slavery. The “conversation” on race went down hill
from there but at least America tried to have a civil discussion
about race, if not for just a moment, and John Hope Franklin led
Last year, when it looked like Barack Obama was going to win the nomination
of the Democratic Party for President of the United State-“a new
racial benchmark,” the press and the pundits started talking about
whether we had reached a “post” racial period in America, a period
that signified the “insignificance of race.” A “Post-Racial” America
was now looking at whether it was possible to look past race in
electing an African American President. While most said it was “possible,”
nobody was willing to bet the farm (or the house, those who still
had one) on it. Even as January 20th approached and it was “all
but said and done,” we all knew this was still America and racism
could raise its ugly head at any moment, for there really never
is a post racial period in America.
America has two periods as it relates to race, racial and really racial.
Slavery, Jim Crow Segregation and the Anti-Affirmation Periods were
the “really” racial periods. Everything else was racial realities
in everyday America. John Hope Franklin knew this and said this
on many an occasion. There is nothing “post” about race and racism,
maybe except “Post-Slave Traumatic Stress Syndrome.” The election
of Barack Obama hasn’t changed that at all.
listen to the comments on the expectations for a man that’s been
in office 70 days and the doubt that is cast as to whether Obama
is in “over his head,” when his predecessor stole an election, started
two wars on faulty premises, doubled the deficit, and was never
accused of being in over his head. He was accused of being “dumb”
but never accused of being in over his head as the problems of the
world would somehow work their way out. Well, they never did and
the unrealistic expectations loaded upon President Obama is how
you know race still real in America.
We still need somebody to put this in a true historical perspective. An
ode to the life of John Hope Franklin. He was a man who helped document
our history within the racial complexities and race conflicts of
a country that never acknowledged race, but forever tried to formulate
race caste systems, and refused to write about it until a true historian
sought to tell both sides of American history. Franklin proved that
within our story is America’s story and America “Negro problem”
was a refusal to acknowledge the equality of black America. It’s
still America’s problem today, even with Barack in the White House.
But he too is now American history-not just “black history.” It
was John Hope Franklin that first said the two are inseparable.
We now know that to be the case and making black history and American
inseparable will forever be John Hope Franklin’s legacy. And there’s
nothing post racial about it.
BlackCommentator.com Columnist, Dr. Anthony Asadullah Samad, is a national columnist, managing
director of the Urban Issues Forum and author of Saving The Race: Empowerment Through Wisdom. His Website is AnthonySamad.com.
to contact Dr. Samad.