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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Runner-Up for ASA John Hope Franklin Prize

The American Studies Association has named Racial Innocence one of three runners-up for the John Hope Franklin Publication Prize for the best book in American Studies. I am simply stunned by this honor.

William Gleason's wonderful book, Sites Unseen: Architecture, Race, and American Literature is also a runner-up. Racial Innocence and Sites Unseen are both part of the NYU Press series, "America and the Long 19th Century." I'm proud to be a part of this series, and grateful to its editors--David Kazanjian, Elizabeth McHenry, and Priscilla Wald--for their vision and guidance.

It is a particular honor to receive this recognition in the name of John Hope Franklin, the distinguished scholar who transformed the study of African American history. Professor Franklin is a model of an academic life, with an emphasis on life. A simple list of his professional accomplishments would fill pages: his many, many books include The Emancipation Proclamation, The Militant South, The Color Line: Legacy for the Twenty-First Century, The Free Negro in North Carolina, Reconstruction After the Civil War, Mirror to America: The Autobiography of John Hope Franklin, George Washington Williams: A Biography, A Southern Odyssey: Travelers in the Ante-bellum North, and In Search of the Promised Land: A Slave Family in the Old South and Runaway Slaves: Rebels on the Plantation, both with Loren Schweninger. Perhaps his most influential book is From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African-Americans, the preeminent textbook on African American history, first published in 1947 and revised many times, most recently in co-authorship with my colleague, Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham. John Hope Franklin served as president of Phi Beta Kappa, the Organization of American Historians, the American Historical Association, and the Southern Historical Association. In 1995, Professor Franklin received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor. In that same year, with Franklin's support and vision, the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture was established at Duke University. In 1997, Professor Franklin was the subject of a 90-minute PBS film, First Person Singular: John Hope Franklin.

Any one of these accomplishments (and this is a very partial list!) would warrant nothing short of awe for this man. My admiration for him extends well beyond his professional accomplishments, however. I know many people who worked for years with or alongside Dr. Franklin, and from many voices I have heard one story: John Hope Franklin was a mensch, a true human being. He was the brilliant scholar who never lost sight of the individuals around him; he honored the generations that came before him and especially those that came after him. I understand that he dearly loved his family, especially his wife, Aurelia Whittington Franklin, to whom he was married for 59 years until she passed away in 1999. He remained not only academically productive but also intellectually alive and passionately open to new ideas throughout his life, right up until his passing in 2009 at the age of 94.

This short tribute to John Hope Franklin is painfully incomplete. I could easily have created a list that was equally long and equally impressive, but that repeated none of the above information. For a fuller picture of his professional accomplishments--his publications, awards, and many other triumphs--look here, here, and here. The warmth with which he touched others is apparent in the memorial website, where his students, colleagues, friends, and family have offered moving testimony to the effect Professor Franklin had on their lives. Along with so many others, I have long been the beneficiary of John Hope Franklin's scholarship and intellectual generosity, and I am deeply honored to become one tiny part of his expansive legacy through an award that bears his name.

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