John Hope Franklin has passed away.



The Washington Post has an obituary (link), but the Atlanta Journal-Constitution takes it one step further and celebrates the life of this tireless man with a profile they did with him in 1997. It doesn't really matter if you disagree with the man's methodology, personality, or politics, John Hope Franklin's WORK is to be respected. I'm sure he'll be rewarded in death for his endless work.

(Atlanta Journal-Constitution) How John Hope Franklin handled the nation’s race conversation: For a moment, historian John Hope Franklin lost his famous professorial cool. “They’ve got affirmative action on the brain, ” he said, “and they can’t get it off of it.”

A day earlier, Franklin had had his first touch of the flame of political controversy as chairman of President Clinton’s Race Initiative advisory board.

His board was getting hammered for its decision not to invite opponents of affirmative action, such as Ward Connerly, champion of California’s Proposition 209, to speak at a board hearing on how to achieve diversity in higher education.

Charges of “stifling the race debate” and attempting to “keep the race industry alive” shot like flares in the night sky, in editorials and commentary. The race dialogue, critics were saying, had become a monologue, a presidential panel preaching to its hand-picked choir.

And the criticism was coming from more than the predictable places. Even historians with an abiding respect for Franklin’s work took issue. “Apparently the diversity this commission wants is a diversity of color, not a diversity of opinion,” said David Garrow, Emory University historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer.

“This is a self-inflicted wound that may be fatal,” added historian Hugh Graham of Vanderbilt University, who has written extensively on presidential commissions.

“(The board) is discredited from the beginning. It makes their (final) report dead on arrival,” he added.

For Franklin, it was all too much. The hearing “was not on affirmative action,” which, he said, is only one way to achieve diversity in higher education. “We were giving attention to other ways of achieving diversity,” he said.

“I’m wary of them,” he said of his critics. Then, sounding exasperated, Franklin blurted out that he was wary of “all of it.”

The attention on Franklin — first a spotlight, now a heat lamp — remains extraordinary. The letters are piling up. From the agitated and the aggrieved, from Kentucky and from Germany, from the “count-me-in” volunteers and the “You’ll-burn-in-hell!” crackpots, the letters keep arriving at Franklin’s two-story brick home, about 20 a day, nearly 1,000 to date.

For more than a half-century, Franklin toiled in the academic vineyards, a historian chronicling the African-American experience with elan. But over the past few months, as the high-profile chairman of the race advisory board, his face has become so well-known that people have called out to him on the street. One woman, spotting him in the Tampa airport recently, shouted, “God bless you! I wish you much success!”

And it all got Franklin to thinking: “Like it’s up to me. Like I’m about to do something spectacular and solve all of this!”

Now, in a warm, comfortable living room filled with books about race, Franklin, 82, says, “It’s very interesting how some people seem relieved: They don’t have to worry about race anymore, now that I’m worrying about it.” He raises a brow. “If I don’t deliver, I better leave the planet.”

In June, Clinton appointed a seven-member advisory board to serve for 12 months. Its purpose, Clinton said then, was to stir a national dialogue on race and devise a blueprint for action for a president dearly hoping to make race the centerpiece of his legacy.

Franklin says he has been “pleasantly surprised, almost dumbfounded” by the enormous response generated by the race initiative. After Clinton announced plans to hold a “town hall” meeting in December in an unspecified Midwestern city, for instance, Franklin says, “we only got about 500 or 700 or 1,000 requests from towns in the Midwest, saying, ‘We are what you are looking for.’ “

Franklin laughs: “Gimme a break!” Akron, Ohio, got the town hall meeting, set for Wednesday.

Yet, there is an equally daunting flip side — a skepticism and pessimism that the board can make any real progress in a year on this complex and combustible issue, particularly within the web of politics.

It is perhaps telling that Judith Winston, executive director of the race initiative, says that that “skepticism might be especially acute among those who have been working at this (race issue) for a long time.”

With its work now several months old and its charter due to expire in September 1998, the advisory board is being criticized for moving too slowly, for not meeting often enough (once a month so far) and for lacking vigor and direction while scrupulously avoiding confrontation.

Franklin has felt some of the sting personally. He reads aloud from a newspaper clipping: “Some people believe that at 82 he is too old to serve on, never mind head, the advisory board.”

He shrugs.

“People think we are to attack the race problem and solve it. That’s not what we are supposed to do.” The signature term, Franklin says, is advisory board to the president.

The board intends to give its full report to Clinton by midsummer. “I would not go so far to say that this (one-year initiative) can result in a transforming achievement of any sort, ” Franklin says. But, he adds, “We might be able to do something positive and point toward the direction in which we, as a nation, should go in the future.”

A central goal, Franklin says, is to search the nation’s communities for “models and seeing if they can be replicated” on a larger scale.

Already, the board has identified more than a dozen “Promising Practices, ” such as a University of Michigan program that promotes cross-racial dialogue; an annual multimedia event in Boston that encourages youths to respect cultural differences; and the Coming Together Project in Akron, an effort that merges more than 200 groups to improve race relations in that city.

The advisory board’s own series of town hall meetings — separate from those conducted by Clinton — is scheduled to begin in Atlanta in January, during King Week.

Winston knows that precious little time remains for the board to fulfill its mission. Among critics, she says, “there is a sense of nervousness about the clock ticking.”

“We don’t expect race to be reconciled by the end of the initiative year, ” Wi nston says. “But we think we will have learned a number of things government can do and, more importantly, things the private sector can do, or continue to do, to help bridge the racial divide.”

Vanderbilt’s Graham says the advisory board must assess the Clinton administration’s race policies, including its “Mend It, Don’t End It” affirmative action policy.

He says the advisory board cannot say, “‘Let’s look at what’s happening in Portland’ but not say, ‘Let’s look at what is happening in Washington.’” On a frozen morning in November, Franklin comes in from his back yard, where he has tended to the prized orchids in his greenhouse.

“Some people are attacking the commission because they don’t like the president,” he says. “There are people attacking the commission because they are naysayers and gloomy and don’t think anything can happen. People can attack you for all kinds of reasons.

“That’s all right.”

He smiles. “I’ll just go to my greenhouse. Or I’ll go work on my next book.” Then he raises a finger for emphasis. “But I’m not frustrated enough to quit.” (source)