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Clinton to honor late Duke historian and scholar

Posted June 11, 2009 1:08 a.m. EDT
Updated June 11, 2009 10:59 a.m. EDT

— A special ceremony will be held Thursday for former Duke University historian and scholar John Hope Franklin, who died in March of congestive heart failure.

Former President Bill Clinton and civil rights leader Vernon Jordan will be among the featured speakers.

“President Clinton, I'm sure, will express his love for my father, as well as his admiration and thanks for the advice he gave him,” said John Whittington Franklin, son of John Hope Franklin.

During his presidency, Clinton awarded Franklin the Presidential Medal of Freedom and later appointed Franklin in 1997 to chair a national task force on race.

Franklin received a bachelor's degree from all-black Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn., in 1935 – he was denied admission to the University of Oklahoma because of his race – and he went on to earn master's and doctoral degrees from Harvard University.

While at Fisk, Franklin met Goldsboro native Aurelia Whittington. They married in 1940, and after he finished his studies at Harvard, the couple returned to the South. He taught at St. Augustine's College in Raleigh and the North Carolina College for Negroes, the predecessor to North Carolina Central University.

Before leaving the Triangle in 1947 to join the faculty of Howard University in Washington, D.C., he published his seminal book, "From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African-Americans," which has sold millions of copies and been translated into six languages.

Franklin returned to the Triangle in 1983, when he was named the James B. Duke Professor of History at Duke.

Franklin's final honor came in 2006, when he won the John W. Kluge Prize for lifetime achievement in the study of humanities. The prize was created through the Library of Congress.

Duke's ceremony will also honor Aurelia, who died 10 years ago.

“She was the manager of the household. She kept everything in order and straight, which permitted him to travel as extensively as he did during my childhood,” John Whittington Franklin said.

Per Franklin's wishes, there was no funeral or memorial service for him following his death. Instead, his family planned a celebration of his and his wife’s lives on June 11, what would have been their 69th wedding anniversary.

The service starts at 11 a.m. at Duke University Chapel. It is free and open to the public.