John Hope Franklin on an Obama Presidency

Esteemed historian reacts to a historic race, one he never believed he would witness in his lifetime.


At age 93, John Hope Franklin remains a formidable force in the world of African-American history and scholarship. He wrote what is considered a core text in the field of African-American studies. From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans, first published in 1947 and now in itseighth edition, is still considered the definitive account of the black experience in America.

As he wrote it, in segregated libraries and archives where he could not use the restroom, Franklin could not have imagined what happened in this country two weeks ago—the day an African American became the presidential nominee of a major political party.

In a brief taped interview, Franklin, the university’s James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of History, reacted to Sen. Barack Obama’s candidacy, calling the nomination “amazing.”

Franklin reminisces about how his mother encouraged him as a youngster to tell people he wanted to become “the first Negro president of the United States.” He says the phrase then seemed “so far-fetched, so incredible that we used to really have fun just saying it.”

Franklin had already endorsed Obama in mid-April, saying he was impressed by Sen. Obama’s ability to bring together people of different backgrounds and party affiliations.