He wrote about history – one of his books is considered a core text on the African-American experience, more than 60 years after its publication – and he lived it. Franklin worked on the Brown v. Board of Education case, marched on Washington in 1963, joined protesters in a 1965 march led by Martin Luther King, Jr. in Montgomery, Ala., and headed President Clinton’s 1997 national advisory board on race.
He is perhaps best known to the public for his work on President Clinton’s 1997 task force on race. But his reputation as a scholar was made in 1947 with the publication of his book, “From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African-Americans,” which is still considered the definitive account of the black experience in America.
“My challenge was to weave into the fabric of American history enough of the presence of blacks so that the story of the United States could be told adequately and fairly,” he said when the 50th anniversary of the book was celebrated in 1997. “That was terribly important.”
In January 2005, he spoke at Duke during the celebration of his 90th birthday, displaying the fire that motivated him throughout his long life. While others at the event talked about the past and reminisced about his accomplishments, Franklin focused squarely on the future. He described the event, held the same day at President George W. Bush’s second inauguration, as a “counter-inaugural,” and gave a talk in the form of a letter to a fictional white man he called “Jonathan Doe.”