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His special connection to North Carolina Central University

Over the course of his lifetime, Dr. John Hope Franklin earned the distinction of being one of the world's most notable historians and foremost authorities on issues of race, class, gender, and social justice. His legacy cannot be overstated. We at North Carolina Central University are saddened by his passing and yet we celebrate a life well lived. On this special website, we salute the historic relationship that Dr. Franklin had with our institution.

Franklin was teaching at Saint Augustine’s College in Raleigh in 1943 when he contacted North Carolina Central University founder Dr. James E. Shepard regarding selective service and also, the potential to teach at North Carolina College for Negroes (now North Carolina Central University).

Dr. Shepard was the only African-American to serve on the Selective Service Board. In this role, he was in a position to excuse Franklin, who was a committed pacifist, from service during World War II.  Franklin would later write in his autobiography about the contradiction of fighting in Europe for human rights denied to black people in the United States.

Shepard recognized Franklin's brilliance.  He had him excused from service and brought him to his Durham campus to teach in the history department. It was during his tenure as a history professor at NCC from 1943 to 1947 that Franklin wrote the first edition of his seminal work From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans.

While at NCC, Franklin was among a distinguished faculty which included William Farrison, Helen G. Edmonds, Joseph H. Taylor, Ezra Totten, James Butts, Marjorie Brown and C.E. Bouleware. His former students included Earlie E. Thorpe who earned his Ph.D. in history from Ohio State University in 1953. Franklin is credited with beginning the tradition of NCCU history majors pursing the Ph.D. in history. To date, more than 50 Ph.D’s in history have been awarded to NCCU history graduates. 

In the coming years, Franklin would leave North Carolina College to serve other institutions including Duke, Harvard and Cambridge, establishing himself as a noted author, scholar, historian, and presidential advisor. Yet, as a resident of Durham, he was able to remain connected to North Carolina Central. Here are a few highlights:

  • Dr. Franklin served as the NCC Founder's Day speaker on November 5, 1956
  • Dr. Franklin received an honorary degree from North Central University during commencement on May 16, 1982.
  • North Carolina Central hosted "A Salute to John Hope Franklin" on January 16-17, 1997 in honor of the 50th Anniversary of the publication of From Slavery to Freedom.
  • North Carolina Central University hosted "John Hope Franklin Day" upon the 90th Birthday of Dr. Franklin