Publication Date

September 1, 1997

Historian John Hope Franklin, former president of the AHA, will chair a commission to conduct a national conversation on the racial divide. The seven-member President's Commission on Race is charged with conducting town hall meetings, analyzing data, and developing and implementing "solutions in critical areas such as education, economic opportunity, housing, healthcare, crime, and the administration of justice—for individuals, communities, corporations, and government at all levels."

Franklin has long pointed to the issue of race as central to the study of U.S. history. At a briefing for the press, Franklin noted that "it is the ideological underpinnings of slavery, the development of a philosophy in this country that stated categorically that blacks were inferior, that they were physiologically and intellectually and ethically inferior. And the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment could not end that, you see, for that had already been deeply ingrained so that when you turned off slavery there still remained these very important salient features that had been ingrained into the American ethos, that blacks were not worthy." Yet as Franklin also notes "We've never really had a national dialogue … on the question of race." From his perspective as a historian, Franklin argues that "there is some serious contradiction between the policies of this country with respect to race and the fundamental documents and sacred statements with respect … to our nation."

In his speech in San Diego, Clinton recapitulated the tortured history of race relations, and the equally complex history of affirmative action and other remedies. He said the commission would be a success "if 10 years from now people can look back and see that this year of honest dialogue and concerted action helped to lift the heavy burden of race from our children's future."

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