Publication Date

January 1, 1998

Perspectives Section


On November 12 former AHA president John Hope Franklin received the Smithsonian's James Smithsonian Bicentennial Medal in recognition of his contributions as a U.S. historian. The evening began with a discussion between Franklin, his son John Whittington Franklin (a program specialist at the Smithsonian's Center for Folklife), and Marc Pachter, another Smithsonian historian, about the autobiography of John Hope Franklin's late father, Buck Colbert Franklin, a remarkable figure in his own right. The son and grandson team recently completed editing My Life and An Era: The Autobiography of Buck Colbert Franklin. The Franklins discussed with Pachter the ways in which Buck Franklin’s life was representative of the struggles that African Americans faced throughout most of the 20th century. Born in 1879 in what was still the Oklahoma territory, Buck Franklin lived most of his life in Tulsa. It was not until after the establishment of statehood in 1907 that the full oppression of the Jim Crow system of segregation took hold. Trained as a lawyer, Buck Franklin worked much of his life to fight the legalized spread of segregation.

I. Michael Heyman, secretary of the Smithsonian, awarded Franklin the Bicentennial Medal in a brief ceremony at the conclusion of the evening. In his remarks Heyman noted that Franklin, who has also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, has been awarded 105 honorary degrees by American colleges and universities. Clearly with this award, if not before, John Hope Franklin becomes possibly the most decorated historian in history.

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