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Historian John Hope Franklin Talks About Racism in America


One of America’s preeminent historians, John Hope Franklin is emeritus professor at Duke University and the author and editor of 18 books. The grandson of a slave, Professor Franklin received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1995 and the 2006 John W. Kluge Prize for the Study of Humanity.

John Hope Franklin says he thinks it is striking how America in the late 18th century “became the protagonist for an economy and a way of life that contradicted everything this country stood for.”

Speaking with host Carol Castiel of VOA News Now’s Press Conference USA, Professor Franklin says, as America evolved, it became more and more involved in “problems of race and ethnicity that negated some the ideals” of the early European settlers. He suggests that ironically, at the time of America’s War of Independence, its economy was based on slave labor, which “denied the freedom for which they all fought.” So, he says, the country began with a “serious contradiction,” and it is a problem that remains at the center of American life.

Professor Franklin says the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, intended to end school segregation, has not lived up to its potential. And that’s partly because a large segment of the population, including the Congress, resisted it. And, those effects are felt today.

Today, John Hope Franklin says, there are some “heart-warming signs” of improvement in race relations, such as those at the university where he taught for many years. But if measuring sticks, such as health care, general education, economic “viability,” or housing are used, equality has not been achieved.

Regarding the candidacy of the African-American senator from Illinois, Barak Obama, Professor Franklin says the senator is an extremely able man and is to be admired for his “articulateness, his discipline, and his vision.” John Hope Franklin says he believes that African-Americans, and even those without the opportunity to get a university education, can “climb out of the pit of depression and distraction and opposition and make it in this world.” He offers them his mother’s advice when he was young, “Don’t waste your time fretting about the people who want to keep you down,” but use that energy instead on achieving your goals.

John Hope Franklin says a “major problem of our time” is the failure of young African-American males who “waste their talents on relatively unimportant things.” But, he adds, it is the responsibility of American society as a whole to help them. Professor Franklin says there is still a pervasive racism among white people in the United States. And he thinks that a policy of “affirmative action” needs to be applied so as to make amends for some of the “injustice” and “degradation” that black Americans have experienced.

For full audio of the program Press Conference USA click here.