Durham, N.C. — Colleagues remembered former Duke University historian and scholar John Hope Franklin on Thursday, a day after the historian and longtime champion of race relations died.
"Dr. Franklin laid the foundation for in-depth study of the history of African-Americans throughout America," said E.B. Palmer, the founder of the African-American Cultural Complex in Raleigh.
The grandson of slaves, Franklin helped establish the field of African-American history. His seminal work, "From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African-Americans," has been translated into six languages and has sold millions of copies since it was published in 1947.
Palmer said he relied on Franklin's advice when he created the cultural complex 25 years ago.
"This museum and others will tell the true stories of African-Americans since the founding of this country," he said. "African-American history is American history."
Franklin taught history at seven universities for more than half a century, ending his career as the James B. Duke Professor of History at Duke University. He also taught at St. Augustine's College in Raleigh and at the predecessor of North Carolina Central University in Durham.
"John Hope thought of himself as primarily an American historian who talked about issues of race. He did not want to be pigeonholed simply as a black historian who only wrote about black issues," said William Chafe, dean of Arts & Sciences and Trinity College at Duke University.
Former President Bill Clinton picked Franklin in 1997 to head a national panel to create a dialog on race relations. He also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award, for his scholarship and service.
Duke created the John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary and International Studies and the Franklin Humanities Institute in his honor.
"What Dr. Franklin wanted this place to be was a place for research, study and reflection," Franklin Humanities Institute director Srinivas Aravamudan said. "It's not just about explaining what went wrong, but understanding all of those things in order to think of a better tomorrow and a way of putting things together."
Franklin, 94, was mentoring students at the international studies center as recently as six months ago, officials said.
U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan introduced a resolution in the Senate Thursday to honor Franklin, and Fourth District Congressman David Price said he would do likewise in the House next week.
"John Hope Franklin was an iconic historian who achieved the pinnacle of success in his professional life and whose work will live on for many years to come,” Hagan said in a statement. “Dr. Franklin shattered barriers that seem unimaginable in today’s world, and he did so with elegance and perseverance.”