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Mirror to America: The Autobiography of John Hope Franklin

de John Hope Franklin

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John Hope Franklin lived through America's most defining 20th-century transformation, the dismantling of legally-protected racial segregation. A renowned scholar, he has explored that transformation in its myriad aspects, and he was, and remains, an active participant. Born in 1915, he could not but participate: evicted from whites-only train cars, confined to segregated schools, and threatened--once with lynching. And yet he managed to receive a Ph. D. from Harvard. He has become one of the world's most celebrated historians and reshaped the way African American history is understood and taught. But Franklin's participation was much more fundamental than that. From his effort in 1934 to hand President Roosevelt a petition, whether aiding Thurgood Marshall's preparation for Brown v. Board in 1954, marching to Montgomery in 1965, or testifying against Robert Bork's nomination to the Supreme Court in 1987, Franklin has pushed the national conversation on race towards humanity and equality.--From publisher description.… (mais)
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Exibindo 5 de 5
One of America's greatest and most influential historians tells the story of his fascinating life and work. ( )
  Sullywriter | Apr 3, 2013 |
I am pleased I encountered this book in audio form, because if I had read it with my eyeballs, I think I would have found it tediously repetitive. Throughout the book, Franklin is constantly rendered "speechless" by yet another accolade, and always accepting prestigious posts "with pleasure". Yet, when you hear him relate the highlights of his life in his own voice, filled with such pride and pleasure, you just want to smile. You feel like you are sitting with him in his study while he goes through boxes filled with evidence of a long life well-lived. This is clearly the autobiography written by someone who is 90 years old, not 70, not 60 . . . it seems the longer you live, the more likely you are to focus on the upside.

So yes, there is a lack of analysis and insight. Sometimes I wonder if Franklin doesn't even remember all the details, and is relying on the items saved in the boxes to jog his memory. When he says an event was followed by a black tie dinner, which he and his wife were delighted to attend -- is he just referring to the invitation he found in the box? We don't hear anything else about the dinner and wonder why he found it worth mentioning.

You do get to learn a little bit about Franklin's research topics, but not much about his research process. How did he grow as a historian over his lifetime? How did the profession of historian change? In another example of a story partially told, Franklin relates a detailed description of how he was recruited to be chair of the Department of History at Brooklyn College, and then you hear nothing more about Brooklyn College until he is recruited to leave there for the University of Chicago. I thought perhaps he had stayed at Brooklyn only a few months, until I looked on Wikipedia and saw he was there 8 years. The actual work he did there does not merit even a paragraph in the autobiography: All you hear is that one of the upsides to the move to Chicago was relief from administrative duties in Brooklyn. What classes did he teach? How did students respond? What did he learn about teaching, how was Brooklyn different from other schools, how was history taught at that time? You get the feeling that over the course of his lifetime he spent an enormous amount of time teaching and preparing for classes, but he says almost nothing about it.

Despite my unanswerd questions, I recommend this book, especially in audio form, for the introduction it provides to this highly accomplished historian. Perhaps it's too bad he didn't write his autobiography when he was younger and sharper, but that would have taken time away from his many, many other worthwhile projects: The audiobook's highlights are when Franklin reads from his own works. I've just ordered Racial Equality in America (Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities, 1976). Franklin read from these lectures in the audiobook, but they were written in his prime, and perhaps they will give me a better idea of the work for which he earned all the accolades.

I was particularly intrigued by Franklin's disgust for how the media covered his work as chair for President Clinton's national panel on race. Franklin said when there was no controversy, the press treated the panel as if they were doing nothing; and when there was controversy, the press treated the panel as if they were failing. When he reads this portion of the book, he does not hide his frustration and anger over the obstacles the press placed in the way of success. And he treats as laughable their assertion that the work of the panel was doomed by the Lewinsky scandal and by Franklin's own failings. As if, he says, America's disdain for facing racial issues wasn't explanation enough. ( )
  read.to.live | Sep 21, 2012 |
John Hope Franklin, historian, celebrated his 90th birthday in 2005 with the publication of his autobiography, Mirror to America. As historians will remind us, autobiographies, while certainly valuable for first-hand accounts of events, need to be read with a healthy dose of skepticism and weighed against other evidence in the historical record. Nevertheless, there is something quite compelling about reading autobiographies. I’m not sure I can explain it, but it seems to me a certain kind of intimacy is created between the autobiographical writer and the reader.

Franklin, like all admired historians, really knows how to tell a story. I was engrossed by his easy prose, the clarity of his thought and expression, his complex insights simply stated—in short, his ability to write for the reading pleasure of ordinary folks. Not to mention that Franklin’s life story is so fascinating, and ultimately affirms the capacity for beauty and generosity toward others that all humanity share. In this book, Franklin not only brings the reader along with his personal struggles and triumphs, he invites you to know how his life “mirrors” the social milieu of 20th century US. ( )
  SheWoreRedShoes | Feb 21, 2010 |
John Hope Franklin (1915-2009), one of America's preeminent historians, relates his dealings with folk from humble to world-renowned, and his part in the struggle for civil rights in the 20th century in this 2005 autobiography.
  ChocolateMilkMaid | Jun 18, 2009 |
Review by George Geder

John Hope Franklin is one of our greatest African American scholar and historian. End of story; but not really. If I were to strike 'African American' from that statement I'd still come to that difinitive conclusion.

JHF, born 1915 in the all black town of Rentiesville, Oklahoma, is a walking timeline of all the major events of the 20th century and the first half-decade of the 21st. He has brushed shoulders with all the greats of our times, achieved nearly immeasurable heights in scholarship and research, received numerous accolades, awards and honors. He received his PhD from Harvard, became the first Black historian to assume full professorship at a white institution- Brooklyn College, and he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nations highest civilian honor (1995).

The book's subtitle is "The Twentieth-century fight for civil rights told in the first-person singular by a preeminent American historian". As a child, he and his mother were kicked off a train for having boarded on an 'for-whites-only' car. As an adult he too was told to take a seat in the back of the bus. JHF also had to deal with racism when it came to housing. On ocean liners to and from Europe they tried to seat his family in the back by the kitchen. AND GET THIS PEOPLE.... he had to experience racial segregation in the Southern archives and libraries, well after he made a name for himself. Imagine the state Department of Archives and History in Raleigh, NC giving him the KEYS to the manuscript collection thus avoiding the white assistants having to deliver manuscripts to John Hope Franklin! Guess who was happy and who was upset with that arrangement.

But this wasn't the book I was initially looking for. I wanted to learn more about his life as a historian, his methodologies, and what he tells his students. Where do family historians fit in with the telling of our stories from his perspective? What steps do we need to take; what procedures to follow? I wanted to learn how to be better at research. I think I already know the answer: Read John Hope Franklin's books, articles, and essays. End of story.

Mirror To America serves as an important backdrop to the history of the United States and one of it's greatest humanitarians. Required reading.

You can find more comments and reviews of African Ancestored genealogy and history books at AfriGeneas.com's Books~Authors~Reviews forum.
http://afrigeneas.com/forum-books/

Peace,
"Guided by the Ancestors"
http://geder.wordpress.com ( )
  Geder | Feb 4, 2007 |
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John Hope Franklin lived through America's most defining 20th-century transformation, the dismantling of legally-protected racial segregation. A renowned scholar, he has explored that transformation in its myriad aspects, and he was, and remains, an active participant. Born in 1915, he could not but participate: evicted from whites-only train cars, confined to segregated schools, and threatened--once with lynching. And yet he managed to receive a Ph. D. from Harvard. He has become one of the world's most celebrated historians and reshaped the way African American history is understood and taught. But Franklin's participation was much more fundamental than that. From his effort in 1934 to hand President Roosevelt a petition, whether aiding Thurgood Marshall's preparation for Brown v. Board in 1954, marching to Montgomery in 1965, or testifying against Robert Bork's nomination to the Supreme Court in 1987, Franklin has pushed the national conversation on race towards humanity and equality.--From publisher description.

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