1915–2009, the dean of 20th-century African-American historians, b. Rentiesville, Okla., grad. Fisk Univ. (A.B., 1935), Harvard (M.A., 1936; Ph.D., 1941). Franklin served on the faculties of his alma mater (1936–37), St. Augustine's College (1939–43), North Carolina College (1943–47), Howard Univ. (1947–56), Brooklyn College (1956–64), and the Univ. of Chicago (1964–82) before assuming (1982) the James B. Duke Professorship of History at Duke. He became professor emeritus in 1985, but taught at Duke's law school from 1985 to 1992. Franklin was also president of Phi Beta Kappa (1973–76), the American Historical Association (1978–79), and several other scholarly organizations.
Franklin's many publications focused on the history of the American South, on slavery and Reconstruction, and on the African-American contribution to the development of the United States. His best-known book, the pioneering From Slavery to Freedom (1947; 8th ed. 2000), revolutionized the understanding of African-American history and changed the way the subject is taught. Among Franklin's other works are The Militant South: 1800–1860 (1956), Reconstruction after the Civil War (1961), The Emancipation Proclamation (1963), Color and Race (1968), Racial Equality in America (1976), Race and History (1989), The Color Line (1993), and In Search of the Promised Land (with L. Schweninger, 2005). He also edited a number of books, including the autobiography (1997) of his father, an Oklahoma lawyer.
Active in the civil-rights movement, Franklin provided historical information vital to the brief for the landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kans. case, marched with Martin Luther King, and testified repeatedly at congressional hearings regarding racial issues. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1995 and was appointed President Clinton's adviser on race two years later. His papers form the nucleus of Duke's John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African-American Documentation.