Writing in the New Republic about the scholarly contribution of historian John Hope Franklin, the late Roy Wilkins noted, "John Hope Franklin is an uncommon historian who has consistently corrected, in clear, vigorous language, the misreading of this country's rich heritage." Similarly complimentary is the more recent assessment by historian Nell Irvin Painter, who praised Franklin for his "great intellectual integrity" and open identification of himself "as a black person concerned with black people." The combination of rigorous, authoritative scholarship and unabashed affection that Franklin brought to his subject—his people—remains the standard by which subsequent histories have been judged.
From Slavery to Freedom, originally published in 1947, was in its seventh edition in 1999. It is usually referred to as the authoritative history of African Americans. Beginning with the pre-Diasporic African states and institutions, the narrative follows the African "forced migration" to the Caribbean, the early American colonies, and Latin America. The major focus of the text is, of course, on the United States. Recent editions have brought the African American experience through to the Black Revolution of the 60s and 70s and expanded the coverage of African states and contemporary issues. Its in-depth discussion of slavery remains one of the most authoritative accounts of the "peculiar institution."
Franklin once said, "It was necessary, as a black historian, to have a personal agenda." At the same time, his history has remained redoubtable over the years, in part owing to his politically objective point of view. From its first edition through its
current incarnation, the book never adhered to the fashionable ideology of the day, whether Marxism or Afrocentrism, but let the history speak for itself. In fact, historian Earle Thorpe has noted that at its initial publication in 1947, there were mixed reactions to the work from the black intellectual community. He concedes, however, that despite the conventionality of its content and interpretation, "the objectivity of the author, his temperateness in tone, thorough grasp of his materials, and scholarly presentation make the work a significant contribution." Not a radical history, but thorough, durable, and essential.