Mirror to America: The Autobiography of John Hope Franklin [NOOK Book]

Overview

John Hope Franklin lived through America’s most defining twentieth-century transformation, the dismantling of legally protected racial segregation. A renowned scholar, he has explored that transformation in its myriad aspects, notably in his 3.5-million-copy bestseller, From Slavery to Freedom. Born in 1915, he, like every other African American, could not help but participate: he was evicted from whites-only train cars, confined to segregated schools, threatened—once with lynching—and consistently subjected to ...

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Mirror to America: The Autobiography of John Hope Franklin

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Overview

John Hope Franklin lived through America’s most defining twentieth-century transformation, the dismantling of legally protected racial segregation. A renowned scholar, he has explored that transformation in its myriad aspects, notably in his 3.5-million-copy bestseller, From Slavery to Freedom. Born in 1915, he, like every other African American, could not help but participate: he was evicted from whites-only train cars, confined to segregated schools, threatened—once with lynching—and consistently subjected to racism’s denigration of his humanity. Yet he managed to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard; become the first black historian to assume a full professorship at a white institution, Brooklyn College; and be appointed chair of the University of Chicago’s history department and, later, John B. Duke Professor at Duke University. He has reshaped the way African American history is understood and taught and become one of the world’s most celebrated historians, garnering over 130 honorary degrees. But Franklin’s participation was much more fundamental than that.

From his effort in 1934 to hand President Franklin Roosevelt a petition calling for action in response to the Cordie Cheek lynching, to his 1997 appointment by President Clinton to head the President’s Initiative on Race, and continuing to the present, Franklin has influenced with determination and dignity the nation’s racial conscience. Whether aiding Thurgood Marshall’s preparation for arguing Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, marching to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965, or testifying against Robert Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court in 1987, Franklin has pushed the national conversation on race toward humanity and equality, a life long effort that earned him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in 1995. Intimate, at times revelatory, Mirror to America chronicles Franklin’s life and this nation’s racial transformation in the twentieth century, and is a powerful reminder of the extent to which the problem of America remains the problem of color.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
This autobiography of John Hope Franklin might be viewed as a microcosm of the civil rights movement and race relations in America. Born in 1915, he grew up in an era of enforced segregation and spontaneous lynching. He earned a Harvard Ph.D. and became the first black historian to gain a full professorship at a white institution, but Franklin was no reclusive academician. From his 1934 effort to force President Franklin Roosevelt to respond to racial violence to his participation in freedom marches and the Brown v. Board of Education case, Franklin walked the walk. From Slavery to Freedom, his history of blacks in America, has sold more than 3 million copies and continues to reshape views of African-American history. This is a major statement by a great American.
David Oshinsky
Franklin has studied his nation for nearly three-quarters of a century. His scholarship tells us that people must be judged by their willingness to remove the obstacles and disadvantages that oppress society's most vulnerable members. His conscience reminds us of how much remains to be done.
— The New York Times
The New Yorker
At the age of ninety, Franklin recounts the story of his rise from a childhood in Oklahoma to a career as a pioneering African-American historian, whose work on the history of segregation formed part of the N.A.A.C.P.’s brief in Brown v. Board of Education. The journey is shadowed at every stage by episodes of casual bigotry and worse. He was threatened by a would-be lynch mob while surveying the economic conditions of black cotton farmers in Depression-era Mississippi; as he corrected the galleys of his groundbreaking work “From Slavery to Freedom,” in 1947, he learned that his older brother, shattered by the experience of racism in the segregated military, “had either fallen or jumped” from a hotel window; and, after he hosted a dinner on the eve of receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, a white woman gave him a numbered ticket and asked him to retrieve her coat.
Publishers Weekly
Franklin's steady, unwavering voice, touched with a taste of gravel and the slightest Southern drawl, anchors his reading of his autobiography, which takes him from an impoverished childhood to a Harvard Ph.D. and a career as a professor of history and tireless advocate for African-American issues. Franklin details his participation in landmark civil rights efforts like Brown v. Board of Education and the Montgomery, Ala., march of 1965. The 90-year-old Franklin reads with a leisurely tone, sounding less like the academic he is and more like an engaging, hospitable storyteller. If at times he makes the book sound like a laundry list of book reviews, job titles and the like, Franklin does a fine job of moving the story along, his sonorous tones surprisingly soothing. Occasionally Franklin hesitates or stumbles over words, but this lack of professional polish only adds to the luster of his reading, which possesses a genuineness and vigor. Simultaneous release with the FSG hardcover (Reviews, Sept. 5). (Oct.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
True to its title, Mirror to America simultaneously tells the compelling life story of Franklin and details nearly nine decades of American history. The author, a famed historian who played a significant role in the Brown v. Board of Education case, speaks candidly and thoroughly about his life experiences. He grew up in Oklahoma during segregation and went on to earn a degree from Fisk University and a Ph.D. in history from Harvard, despite many horrifying and outrageous instances of discrimination. Throughout his life's work, to define and disseminate African American history, Franklin maintained a deep love and respect for his family. Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1995 by President Clinton, Franklin has earned a place in American history because of his passion for that very subject. His reading is authentic and flows well most of the time; his distinctive voice and wonderful diction enhance the overall fine quality of the audio production. Recommended and suitable for all school and public libraries.-Nicole A. Cooke, Montclair State Univ. Lib., NJ Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher
“A pioneer scholar; a splendid humanist and a shining model to generations of students, scholars, and activists.—David Levering Lewis, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, 1994 on John Hope Franklin

“My fondest dream would be to create a work of scholarship in the field of african american literature as germinal, as salient, as compelling, and as timeless as from slavery to freedom.”— Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Director of the W.E.B. DuBois Institute for African and African American Research, Harvard University

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374707040
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 4/15/2007
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 882,178
  • File size: 449 KB

Meet the Author



John Hope Franklin is James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of History at Duke University. He has received dozens of major awards including the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his life-long commitment to Civil Rights.
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Read an Excerpt


1

No Crystal Stair

LIVING IN A WORLD restricted by laws defining race, as well as creating obstacles, disadvantages, and even superstitions regarding race, challenged my capacities for survival. For ninety years I have witnessed countless men and women likewise meet this challenge. Some bested it; some did not; many had to settle for any accommodation they could. I became a student and eventually a scholar. And it was armed with the tools of scholarship that I strove to dismantle those laws, level those obstacles and disadvantages, and replace superstitions with humane dignity. Along with much else, the habits of scholarship granted me something many of my similarly striving contemporaries did not have. I knew, or should say know, what we are up against.

Slavery was a principal centerpiece of the New World Order that set standards of conduct including complicated patterns of relationships. These lasted not merely until emancipation but after Reconstruction and on into the twentieth century. Many of them were still very much in place when beginning in the late 1950s, the sit-ins, marches, and the black revolution began a successful onslaught on some of the antediluvian practices that had become a part of the very fabric of society in the New World and American society in particular.

Born in 1915, I grew up in a racial climate that was stifling to my senses and damaging to my emotional health and social well-being. Society at that time presented a challenge to the strongest adult, and to a child it was not merely difficult but cruel. I watched my mother and father, who surely numbered among the former, daily meet that challenge; I and my three siblings felt equally that cruelty. And it was no more possible to escape that environment of racist barbarism than one today can escape the industrial gases that pollute the atmosphere.

This climate touched me at every stage of my life. I was forcibly removed from a train at the age of six for having accidentally taken a seat in the "white people’s coach." I was the unhappy victim, also at age six, of a race riot that kept the family divided for more than four years. I endured the very strict segregation laws and practices in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I was rejected as a guide through busy downtown Tulsa traffic by a blind white woman when she discovered that the twelve-year-old at her side was black. I underwent the harrowing experience as a sixteen-year-old college freshman of being denounced in the most insulting terms for having the temerity to suggest to a white ticket seller a convenient way to make change. More harrowing yet was the crowd of rural white men who confronted and then nominated me as a possible Mississippi lynching victim when I was nineteen. I was refused service while on a date as a Harvard University graduate student at age twenty-one. Racism in the navy turned my effort to volunteer during World War II into a demeaning embarrassment, such that at a time when the United States was ostensibly fighting for the Four Freedoms I struggled to evade the draft. I was called a "Harvard nigger" at age forty. At age forty-five, because of race, New York banks denied me a loan to purchase a home. At age sixty I was ordered to serve as a porter for a white person in a New York hotel, at age eighty to hang up a white guest’s coat at a Washington club where I was not an employee but a member.

To these everyday, ordinary experiences during ninety years in the American race jungle should be added the problem of trying to live in a community where the economic and social odds clearly placed any descendant of Africans at a disadvantage. For a profession, my father, Buck Franklin, proudly chose the practice of law. Depending as it did on the judicial system in which it operated, the practice of law in America could not possibly have functioned favorably or even fairly for a person who qualified as, at best, a pariah within it. My father, ever the optimist, persisted in holding the view that the practice of law was a noble pursuit whose nobility entailed the privilege of working to rectify a system that contained a set of advantages for white people and a corresponding set of disadvantages for black people. The integrity and the high moral standards by which he lived and that he commended to his children forbade him to violate the law or resort to any form of unethical conduct. And, as children, we had to adjust ourselves to dignified, abject poverty.

My mother, Mollie, shared these views, to which she added a remarkable amount of creativity and resourcefulness in her effort to supplement the family income and boost the family morale. She taught in public schools, made hats, and developed a line of beauty aids. To these creative skills should be added her equanimity, her sense of fairness, her high standards of performance, and her will to succeed. On many occasions she would say to me, "If you do your best, the angels cannot do any better!" These qualities became the hallmark of her relationship with her four children, giving us the strength and skills to cope with the formidable odds she knew we would encounter. If we did not always succeed, it was not the fault of our parents.

But the challenges I, my brother, Buck, and my sisters, Mozella and Anne, faced were always formidable. Living through years of remarkable change, the barrier of race was a constant. With the appearance of each new institution or industry, racism would rear its ugly head again. When the age of the automobile made its debut, there was the question of whether African Americans should be given the opportunity to acquire the skills necessary to find work within that industry. It was the same with the advent of the computer age. More than one company dragged its feet when it came to making certain that young people on "both sides of the track" had an opportunity to acquire the skills necessary to be successful participants in the new scientific revolution. Indeed, the expansion of numerous American industries caused debates or at least discussions regarding the abilities of African Americans to cope with new developments, whatever they were. Even at the end of the twentieth century, many Americans continued to debate nineteenth-century racial theories regarding the abilities of blacks to see at night, to make accurate calculations, and to learn foreign languages. These debates ranged from discussions having to do with the effect of African Americans on the growth of the gross national product to their ability to resist new diseases or their capacity to adjust to new educational or cultural developments. Throughout a life spent at the intersection of scholarship and public service, I have been painfully aware that superstitions and quaint notions of biological and even moral differences between blacks and whites continue to affect race relations in the United States—even into the twenty-first century.

In 1943 Gunnar Myrdal called attention to these discussions and debates over racial differences in his classic American Dilemma. And when the Committee on the Status of Black Americans, of which I was a member, took another look in 1989 while updating Myrdal’s book, we saw much the same thing and set forth these and other views in A Common Destiny: Blacks and American Society. In our discussion of the problem of race, we declared that it could well create new fissures that might, in turn, lead to an increased level of confrontations and violence. The Rodney King riots of 1991 offered vivid testimony that there still persists much too much potential for racial conflict for anyone to be complacent.

Of the many recollections I have arising from my fifteen months as chair of President Clinton’s advisory board on race is that of the black woman who screamed during a meeting her history of how she had been abused and mistreated because of her race. My memory of the white man who claimed that already too much was being done for African Americans, and it was he who needed protection from policies such as affirmative action, is no less vivid. The advisory board was troubled by these and similar competing claims, and it became clear that open dialogues and, if necessary, limitless discussions were the civilized approach to finding constructive ways of dealing with America’s racial ills. It did and will require not only persistent diligence but also abiding patience.

During my life it has been necessary to work not only as hard as my energies would permit, but to do it as regularly and as consistently as humanly possible. This involved the strictest discipline in the maximum use of my time and energy. I worked two jobs in college and graduate school that made inordinate demands on my time, but there was no alternative to the regimen that circumstances demanded. And those circumstances included a refusal to check my catholic interests that have always prompted me to participate in activities beyond scholarship. Balancing professional and personal activities has resulted in a life full of rich rewards, a consequence deeply indebted to my near sixty-year marriage to Aurelia Whittington. My father called her the Trooper for her patient, good-willed, indomitable spirit. She was that and so much more. How do I calculate the influence of having spent two-thirds of my life living alongside an exemplar of selfless dignity?

Even before we were married, I learned much from Aurelia. She taught me to put others ahead of my own preference, as she did routinely. There is no more vivid example of her habit of self-sacrifice than when she abandoned her own career. She did so in order to be there for Whit, our only child, when our adult Brooklyn neighbors taunted him and sought in every way possible to convey that neither he nor his family was welcome to live in their previously all-white neighborhood.

My life has been dedicated to and publicly defined by scholarship, a lifelong affection for the profession of history and the myriad institutions that support it. A white professor at historically black Fisk University powerfully influenced my choice of a career, one I decided early on to dedicate to new areas of study, wherever possible, in order to maintain a lively, fresh approach to teaching and writing history. This is how I happened to get into African American history, in which I never had a formal course but that attracted an increasing number of students of my generation and many more in later generations. But I was determined that I would not be confined to a box of any kind, so I regarded African American history as not so much a separate field as a subspeciality of American history. Even in graduate school I was interested in women’s history, and in more recent years I have studied and written papers in that field, although I never claimed more than the desire to examine it intensely rather than presume to master it entirely.

I could not work in the field of history without maintaining some contact with other historians and some affiliation with historical associations. Consequently, at the Library of Congress and in local libraries where I was engaged in research, I made a point of meeting other historians and discussing with them matters of mutual interest. I not only maintained an active membership in the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History but joined other groups, even where it became necessary to educate members, to the extent possible, that history knows no bounds, either in the human experience or in the rules governing who is eligible to record it. This would not, could not involve demeaning myself or in any way compromising my own self-respect. On occasion it did involve venturing into groups and organizations when it was not clear if their reception of me would be cool or cordial. Nevertheless, as a consequence I became active in the major national professional organizations long before most other African Americans joined them.

In much the same way, I became involved with historical groups in other parts of the world. My ever-widening contacts in the United States presented me with opportunities to become associated with historians in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and South America. Each contact was instructive not only about the many things that peoples of the world have in common but also as to the intense interest other peoples have in problems and developments far removed from their own that would nevertheless assist them in understanding their own society. A remarkable and unforeseen result of my determination to pursue my profession wherever it led, be that into the halls of previously all-white academic associations or to the far-flung scholarly organizations scattered across the globe, were the contacts that released me from the straitjacket confinement of pursuing a career exclusively in historically black colleges and universities.

My life and my career have been fulfilled not merely by my own efforts but also by the thoughtful generosity of family, friends, and professional colleagues. I can only hope that they realize, as do I, how interdependent we all are and how much more rewarding and fulfilling life is whenever we reach a level of understanding where we can fully appreciate the extent of our interrelationships with and our reliance on those who came before us, kept us company during our lives, and will come after us.

Excerpted from Mirror to America by John Hope Franklin.
Copyright 2005 by John Hope Franklin.
Published in 2006 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 16, 2008

    Disappointingly Braggish

    I was only able to make it through Chapter 7 (first 102 pages), and decided at that point, to read a chapter further on in the book to see if the author would drop what was a boastful litany of his honors received and high praise from others. Unfortunately, two pages into a later chapter I found no change, and decided to stop reading. <BR/><BR/>Mr. (Prof.) Franklin's career and experiences seem so unique and important, that I was really looking forward to this autobiography. I've never before read an autobiography where the author couldn't pause in expressing such a high opinion of his/herself long enough to get their story told! Perhaps this is what Pres. Gould of St. Augustine's College saw in him, prompting Gould to 'lecture' Prof. Franklin on not letting his ego get the better of him, as opposed to offering congratulations on Franklin's Harvard PhD. <BR/><BR/>I will have to try one of his non-biographical works at some point, as with his credentials, he surely would have his history down to a science. I only wish he'd been able to humble himself enough to make his autobiography palatable. <BR/><BR/>I'm reviewing the book at 2 stars rather than 1, as behind the bragging are real successes and accomplishments, at at time when minority achievement was terribly difficult in the larger, U.S. society. From that standpoint, it could be a good "yes you can!" touchstone for those who struggle to overcome the disadvantages of bigotry, in any form.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 9, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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