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John Black

John Black


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John Black, the son of Ebenezer Black, a farm worker, was born near Duns, in Berwickshire on 7th November 1783. He was taken in by his mother's brother John Gray, who was also a farm worker. Black was an avid reader and obtained books from the local subscription library.

At the age of thirteen Black was articled by his uncle to a writer. In 1800 he accepted a well-paid clerkship in the branch bank of the British Linen Company. This was followed by work as an accountant in Edinburgh. In his spare time he attended classes at the University of Edinburgh.

During this period he became friends with William Mudford, who eventually moved to London to became editor of Universal Magazine. Brown contributed several articles for the magazine before joining him in the capital. According to his biographer, Robert Harrison: ""It was through Mudford's persuasion that Black left Edinburgh for London in 1810. Charles Mackay gives as a doubtful statement of Black himself, that he walked with a few pence in his pocket all the way from Berwickshire to London, subsisting on the hospitality of farmers. He carried a letter of introduction to Robert Hartley Cromek, engraver and publisher, who received him at once into his friendly home."

Three months later Black was engaged as a reporter and translator of foreign correspondence by James Perry, the joint-owner of the Morning Chronicle. By 1810 the newspaper had a circulation of 7,000. Perry was now able to recruit Britain's best radical journalists, including William Hazlitt and Charles Lamb.

Black got married in December 1812. The union was extremely unhappy and it was not long before she had involved him in debt, sold some of his furniture, and began a relationship with a former lover. In February 1813 she left Black, and in 1814 he sought a divorce. This was not possible and over the next few years she continued to extract money from her husband.

In 1817 Perry developed an internal disease that compelled him to undergo several hospital operations. When he failed to improve, his doctor suggested that he should live by the sea. Black now became editor of the Morning Chronicle. Perry continued to be hounded by the government and in February 1818 was charged with Leigh Hunt and The Examiner for criticizing King George III. Perry defended himself well in court and was found not guilty.

Black soon developed a reputation as a brave editor. He was heavily criticised for his determined condemnation of the conduct of the authorities in the Peterloo Massacre on 16th August 1819. Even the long-time radical, William Cobbett, attacked Black's coverage of the event. Soon after this he was described by Jeremy Bentham as "the greatest publicist yet produced in Great Britain".

John Stuart Mill, was another supporter and wrote: "I have always considered Black as the first journalist who carried criticism and the spirit of reform into the details of English institutions. Those who are not old enough to remember those times can hardly believe what the state of public discussion then was. People now and then attacked the Constitution and the boroughmongers but none thought of censuring the law or the courts of justice and to say a word against the unpaid magistracy was a sort of blasphemy. Black was the writer who carried the warfare into these subjects… And by doing this he broke the spell."

James Perry died in Brighton on 5th December, 1821. The Morning Chronicle was purchased by William Innell Clement, but Black remained as editor. However, he had difficulty competing with The Times, that tended to support the Tories, whereas Black tended to agree with the reforming Whigs.

In August 1834 Black gave a permanent job the young Charles Dickens, on a salary of five guineas a week. Claire Tomalin, the author of Dickens: A Life (2011) has argued: "Black was a Scot, a friend of James Mill and follower of Jeremy Bentham, and he ran the Morning Chronicle as a reforming paper, and set out to rival The Times, encouraged by a tough new owner, John Easthope, a Liberal politician who had made a fortune on the stock exchange. Dickens would be a key member of the team taking on The Times." A friend of Black claimed that "I have often heard Black speak of him (Dickens), and predict his future fame." Another recalled that Black had "the highest opinion of his original genius."

Dickens was one of twelve parliamentary reporters employed by Black. He later wrote about reporting on speeches made by politicians outside of London: "I have often transcribed for the printer from my shorthand reports, important public speeches in which the strictest accuracy was required... writing on the palm of my hand, by the light of a dark lantern, in a post chaise and four, galloping through a wild country, all through the dead of night."

Dickens had obtained a reputation for speed and accuracy in recording debates. In was a well-paid but exhausting job. Reporters were consigned to the back bench of the Strangers' Gallery, where it was hard to hear what was taking place on the floor of the chamber. A fellow reporter claimed: "It was dark: always so insufficiently lit that on the back benches no one could read a paper so ill-ventilated that few constitutions could long bear the unwholesome atmosphere." Charles Mackay, a colleague at the Morning Chronicle, wrote that Dickens "had the reputation of being the most rapid, the most accurate, and the most trustworthy reporter then engaged on the London press".

Dickens enjoyed working with Black: "Returning home from exciting political meetings in the country to the waiting press in London, I do verily believe I have been upset in almost every description of vehicle known in this country. I have been, in my time, belated on miry by-roads, towards the small hours, forty or fifty miles from London, in a wheelless carriage, with exhausted horses and drunken post-boys, and have got back in time for publication, to be received with never-forgotten compliments by the late Mr. Black, coming in the broadest of Scotch from the broadest of hearts I ever knew."

Black also agreed to publish Dickens' short stories. Over the next few months five of Dickens' stories appeared in the newspaper. Dickens called Black "my first hearty out-and-out appreciator". A friend of Black claimed that "I have often heard Black speak of him (Dickens), and predict his future fame." Another recalled that Black had "the highest opinion of his original genius." These stories were so popular that they were collected together and published as a book entitled Sketches by Boz (1836).

According to Andrew Sanders, the author of Authors in Context: Charles Dickens (2003), Dickens often clashed with Black over politics: "Dickens later claimed that he and Black had quarrelled many times about the effect of that cornerstone of Utilitarian legislation, the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834. But it was not simply the Poor Law that offended Dickens's sense of humanity, it was the whole tenor of philosophy, and by extension an economic system, which militated against the proper, and often spontaneous, practice of humane charity."

R. Shelton MacKenzie, the author of Life of Charles Dickens (1870), argued that John Black was "of great learning and remarkable memory, with very liberal political opinions". He also pointed out that a "ten-line leader would have appalled him, by its brevity, for he resembled some of the old world soldiers, in his predilection for charging in long columns... His plan in writing a leading article, was to meditate upon it from morning until night, and then write two or three heavy sticksful, closing with a quotation, at least a column in length, from Bayle, Pascal, Thomas Aquinas, Dun Scotus, or some other light writer."

John Forster, a close friend of Charles Dickens, has pointed out: "Mr. Black is one of the men who have passed without recognition out of a world their labours largely benefited, but with those who knew him no man was so popular, as well for his broad, kindly humour, as for his honest great-hearted enjoyment of whatever was excellent in others. Dickens to the last remembered, that it was most of all the cordial help of this good old mirth-loving man, which had started him joyfully on his career of letters."

Black remained an avid book collector. James Grant argued: "It was an essential part of his creed that no book which he borrowed from a friend should ever be returned… The truth was that Mr Black never could part with any books that ever came into his possession, no matter by what means, or under what circumstances." It has been claimed that he had over 30,000 books in his home. His rooms had reportedly been so full of books that he and his second wife had been "obliged to creep into bed at the end, both sides being blocked up with dusty volumes of divinity and politics".

In 1834 John Easthope, a a Liberal politician who had made a fortune on the stock exchange, purchased the newspaper from William Innell Clement for for £16,500. According to Peter Ackroyd the daily newspaper had "under its previous owner had somehow lost its way." He was considered to be a difficult employer and in February 1836, Charles Dickens led a short, successful strike against Easthope in February 1836 over the terms of employment of his journalists.

Black had a terrible temper and when John Arthur Roebuck published a pamphlet, The Stamped Press and its Morality, criticised those newspaper owners and editors who accepted the 1815 Stamp Act that had placed a 4d tax on newspapers. John Black was so upset he challenged Roebuck to a duel. Roebuck accepted and although shots were fired at the meeting, no one was injured.

In 1843 Black, who had reached the age of sixty, was asked to resign. He had saved very little money but a group of friends arranged for him to receive an annuity of £150. Another old friend, Walter Coulson, provided a cottage at Snodland, near Maidstone, rent free.

John Black died at Birling, Kent on 15th June 1855.

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Do We Really Need Black History Month?

To feel that something is tired in the idea of Black History Month isn’t, despite what one might hear from some quarters, racist. When Carter G. Woodson founded Negro History Week in 1926, he hoped that the need for such a celebration would gradually recede. For the week to morph into a month did not exactly bear out his wishes, and today, even black people brandish an array of objections to Black History Month. Actor Morgan Freeman wonders why the history of his people must be relegated to a single month. Others more recreationally inclined consider it suspicious that February is the shortest month. Is it perhaps time to let Black History Month go?

The question is not whether black history is important. It is whether America still needs to be reminded of that fact. What would an America sufficiently aware of black history look like? Suppose, say, the organizers of a centennial commemoration of the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo decided to highlight the racially discriminatory side of the original event. Or suppose a traveling museum exhibit of slave ship artifacts reportedly got record-breaking attendance at every site that it visited. Both have happened, both suggest an America that “gets” black history—and both occurred ten years ago, at this writing.

Just a year later, Washington State Representative Hans Dunshee, who is white, agitated to have Jefferson Davis’s name removed from a Seattle highway and replaced with the name of William P. Stewart, a black Civil War veteran from Washington. Meanwhile, white Underground Railroad buffs in Ohio were the most vocal critics of various historical distortions in a planned Cincinnati National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. In modern America, things like this are ordinary: I chose among countless possibilities. If this isn’t an America ready to heed Carter G. Woodson’s advice, then what would be?

How about fast-forwarding to last year? Isabel Wilkerson’s chronicle of the Great Migration, The Warmth of Other Suns, was one of the most ecstatically received books of the year and will likely win a Pulitzer. Another of the most popular books of 2010 was Rebecca Skloot’s chronicle of Henrietta Lacks, a black woman whose cancer cells researchers harvested without her knowledge the story will soon be an HBO film. On Broadway, the hit musical Memphis depicted the rise of rock and roll amid a violent response to an interracial romance. Another musical, this one about the injustice perpetrated in the 1930s upon the Scottsboro Boys, was brought from Off Broadway to the Great White Way despite highly mixed reviews, because its (white) creators and backers thought it too important not to be more widely seen.

And we also live in an era when history textbooks are dedicated to chronicling slavery to such an extent that critics decry the decrease in space devoted to other aspects of history, and when university leaders consider it more important that an undergraduate know what institutional racism is than what the Munich Agreement was. All of this is why a month dedicated to black history now feels like a month dedicated to seat belts. Both are now part of the fabric of American life, with black history almost as insistent on any wakeful person’s attention as the pinging sound in a car when you don’t buckle up.

It can be strangely hard to admit that a battle has been won. But especially considering that the typical white person isn’t exactly a walking encyclopedia of “white” history, it’s time to admit that America knows its black history as well as anyone has reason to wish it to.


Alain Leroy Locke

First Black Rhodes Scholar

Alain LeRoy Locke was an American philosopher, educator and writer. After obtaining an undergraduate degree from Harvard University, Locke became the first Black Rhodes Scholar. He later returned to the U.S. to complete his doctoral studies at Harvard where he got a PhD in philosophy in 1918.

Locke later earned the title “Father of the Harlem Renaissance," the period of social, cultural and artistic rebirth that took place in Harlem, New York, throughout the 1920s to the mid-1930s.

Locke continued to mold minds at Howard University as the Philosophy department chair, a role he would keep until his retirement in 1953. In fact, there is a New York City school, Alain L. Locke Magnet School for Environmental Stewardship, named after the educator.


2. Henry VIII's black trumpeter

During the Tudor period there were hundreds of black migrants living in England. For those of us a bit rusty on our Tudor dates, we're talking about the 1500s.

John Blanke, an African trumpeter, was one of them. His face can be seen inscribed into a 60ft long roll depicting the prestigious Westminster Tournament of 1511 - an elaborate party which Henry VIII put on to celebrate the birth of a son.

There's even a letter from John Blanke to Henry VIII asking for a pay rise.

"He petitioned for 8p a day. I don't know what the conversion is today, but that showed he knew his worth," Lavinya says.


&aposWake Up!&apos and &aposDuets&apos

In 2010, Legend released Wake Up!, which he recorded with The Roots. The album received raves from music critics and tackled tunes made famous by the likes of Marvin Gaye and Nina Simone. The Curtis Mayfield-penned "Hard Times" was one of the record&aposs main singles another hit, "Shine," Legend&aposs own composition, earned him a Grammy Award. He and The Roots also won a Grammy for best R&B album in 2011.

Legend tried his hand at reality television with the singing competition Duets during the summer of 2012. He worked alongside Kelly Clarkson, Robin Thicke and Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland. The musical stars coached and performed with the contestants on the show. Later that year, Legend contributed a new track to Quentin Tarantino&aposs film Django Unchained.


John Black - History

On New Year's Day 1511 King Henry VIII was presented with a son by his wife, Catherine of Aragon. As was the tradition to celebrate major festivals such as coronations and royal births and marriages, Henry held a great tournament at Westminster.

Tournaments were a continuation of a tradition that gained popularity during the Roman era. They were originally a form of military training: games and exercises designed to instil discipline into young men and teach them the art of bearing arms. Tournaments later developed into an art form, combining elements of drama, music and poetry.

By the early 12th century across northern Europe, tournaments had become a kind of team game. Each team comprised a company of knights under the leadership of the lord whom they followed and served in times of war. Tournaments also had a chivalric and romantic side. Ladies in the tournament audience had a chance to see their heroes prove their prowess, strength and courage (or not, as the case may be), and the knights in their turn hoped to win over the affections of the ladies by their displays.

The Westminster Tournament Roll

From the 15th century there was a growing desire to depict spectacles and ceremonials and record them for posterity. Henry VIII wanted such a pictorial record made of his tournament to mark the birth of his male child. He commissioned the Westminster Tournament Roll, a unique treasure held at the College of Arms. It is a pictorial illuminated manuscript, a continuous roll approximately 60 feet long. It is a narrative of the beginning, middle and end of the tournament, which took place over two days.

In the Westminster Tournament Roll, the king occupies a prominent position. Henry is shown surrounded by a host of footmen, officials and dignitaries, a mace bearer, a crowd of nobles, the officers of arms and six trumpeters. Among the latter is a Black man. He appears twice on the Roll: once on the way from the court and again on the way back. According to the historian Sydney Anglo, he is almost certainly John Blanke, the 'blacke trumpeter' mentioned in the Treasurer's accounts.

Henry VIII's tournament was a costly extravaganza, and here we find a Black man included in one of the most magnificent pageants of his time, dressed formally as a mounted musician, perhaps also belonging to the equestrian corps of the court.

References and Further Reading

Anglo, S., The Great Tournament Roll of Westminster: Historical Introduction, Oxford, 1968

Anglo, S., The Great Tournament Roll of Westminster: A Collotype Reproduction of the Manuscript, Oxford, 1968

Barber, R. and Barker, J., Tournaments: Jousts, Chivalry and Pageants in the Middle Ages, Suffolk, 1989


The Final Call

In our sincere desire to inspire the Black Man and Woman, we sometimes latch onto those enticing tidbits of historical folklore that seem to show us in our original greatness. The story of John Hanson is one of those legends that have permeated our Black consciousness, and it is easy to see why. Many have claimed that Hanson was the first president of the United States—not George Washington—and, they say, he was a Black man! Could it be that the Founding Fathers of America had to rely on a Black man to lead them out of the darkness of a European monarchy? And what Black person wants to claim the role or position of George Washington—a Virginia-born Caucasian who enslaved at least 500 African people, and murdered untold numbers of Indians—whereby he presided over slavery? The idea is indeed captivating, especially for a people who have always been told they were at the bottom of every socio-political and economic measure. The idea of a Black John Hanson—“first President of the United States”—has become a popular legend in the Black community, but is it true? Let’s take a closer look. The question arises around a merchant from Maryland named John Hanson who lived during the era of the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783), when the Europeans who first came over to colonize America took up arms to separate from Britain. Hanson became a leader at the 1780 Continental Congress held in Philadelphia, where representatives from all the colonies assembled to present a unified front to the European powers. They had not yet decided to become a nation, but they did want to form some organization to protect their interests. So they formed an organization, very much like NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) of today, and they elected John Hanson to lead them. But the “United States” as an actual nation would not be formed until the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1788—five years after Hanson’s death. That is when plantation owner George Washington became the new nation’s first president.

So Hanson was not Black nor was he the first president of the United States—but how did so many people come to believe that Hanson was a Black man? The racial mislabeling of John Hanson seems to be a simple case of mistaken identity. Some have confused the colonial-era John Hanson with a politician from the African nation of Liberia who lived decades later in the mid-1800s. This Liberian John Hanson was notable for his involvement in the resettlement of former slaves in Africa. While this Liberian Hanson was indeed Black, he lived well after the Hanson of the Continental Congress.

But then there is the question of the portrait on the back of the $2 bill, where some say that John Hanson is depicted as a Black man. Well, the picture is an artist’s depiction of the scene at the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and shows several Caucasians in the room. One of those powder-wigged men depicted (the 12th from the left) appears darker than his colleagues, leading to speculation that it is their Black John Hanson.

But in reality, if there were Blacks in the room, they were slaves—not diplomats or politicians. In any event, the White John Hanson never signed the Declaration of Independence, so even if the engraver meant to depict a Black man (and he did not) it was someone other than Hanson.

But that doesn’t mean that the White criminals that flooded into America, having been expelled from the jails and dungeons of Europe, knew how to set up a government on their own. They still needed the Original Man for that—just not John Hanson. Upon his arrival, the White man found a welcoming and friendly people, members of a well-ordered agrarian society with a solid political, social, and spiritual structure and strong alliances with other Indian communities. Whites sailed the coast and couldn’t believe the great expanses of cultivated land expertly planted with corn, peppers, strawberries, beans, squashes, artichokes, grapes, and tobacco, with warehouses for their longterm storage.

They found no jails, no forts, no starvation, no native diseases that were not treatable or even curable by the medical experts among the Indians. In short, European Whites found a natural harmony between the people and their land and, despite what Hollywood has promoted for years, an amicable co-existence with Indians from all other regions—a sharp contrast to the feudal self-oppression, chaos, war, death, destruction, and disease that characterized the 17th-century Europe that the Pilgrims fled. The Italian explorer Giovanni da Verazzano called the Indians “the most beautiful people and the most civilized in customs.” The famed Puritan Capt. John Smith called their land “a most excellent place for health and fertility.” It is, he said, “paradise.”

The Iroquois Nation lived by a pact they called the Great Law of Peace, which was in force throughout the entire Atlantic northeastern region. Under their government women held a position of high respect and authority, and they made no distinctions on the basis of race. But just as in Africa, Whites like Benjamin Franklin were sent to study the indigenous communities they called “savages.” And when they came up with the design for the American Constitution, it had many of the same themes that were in the Iroquois Pact. Many scholars say there are so many similarities that it can be said (without hyperbole) that Whites actually lifted the principles, ideas and themes from the Pact and called them the United States Constitution. The Iroquois Grand Council had fifty members (forty-nine living sachems and one seat perpetually reserved for the Peacemaker), while Benjamin Franklin’s plan had forty-eight. This is very much like the Congress we know in Washington today—except, of course, for the Peacemaker. Franklin was so impressed with the Indian government that he actually wrote a letter in 1751 encouraging the colonists to emulate the Iroquois model. (Franklin’s letter, anonymously published, was widely publicized.)

This is one of many actual historical facts that show the powerful role the Indian and the African had in forming the very core of the United States of America. In the future, learning about the role of the Black Man and Woman in creating governments will be a central part of our education system. The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan has declared that we are to be SEPARATED, to achieve our long overdue Freedom, Justice, and Equality. Let us start with our true history, separating it from the enemy’s myths, rumors, falsehoods and deceptions. Truth will guide us, and Allah will bless us!


John Black - History

Meet the Founder of the Oldest and Largest Black-Owned Life Insurance Company

North Carolina Mutual is one of the most influential African-American businesses in U.S. history. Founded in 1898 in Durham, NC by entrepreneur John C. Merrick, the company initially specialized in providing "industrial insurance," which was basically burial insurance for Black people.
Merrick was born in 1859 His mother was a slave and his father was a white man. During his youth, he learned various skills including bricklaying and barbering. This allowed him to open his very own barber shop in 1882. Later, he opened five stores, and he and his partners bought the Royal Knights of King David, a fraternal and social group that also provided insurance to it's Black members.

Merrick was dedicated to learning as much as he possibly could about the insurance industry. His idea was inspired by the short life expectancies and general poor health that was common within the Black population at that time.

In those days, African Americans were just three decades from slavery. So, covering the cost of a suitable funeral was often impossible for them to do with the small wages they earned. So, Merrick's strategy was to hire salesmen to collect small payments each week (about 10 cents) to cover the insured person for the following week. If the insured person died, the company would pay benefits of about $100.

During the first year in business, the concept did not immediately catch on and the company lost a lot of money. Therefore, many investors lost faith and decided to leave the company. But in 1900, Merrick reorganized the company, and appointed a new general manager named Clinton Spaulding. Under his leadership, the growth of the company began and spanned for decades.

In fact, for much of the 20th century, North Carolina Mutual was the largest Black-owned company in the country. Today, it is still recognized as the largest and oldest African American life insurance company in the United States.


John Black - History

John Hope Franklin, the author of academic and popular works of African American history over six decades, lived to be 94. More than any other U.S. scholar, he advanced the study and teaching of African American history in U.S. universities in the second half of the twentieth century.

Franklin was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1915 in a remarkable area known as “Black Wall Street”: a neighborhood of successful business and professional African Americans, with the highest per capital income of African Americans in the U.S. at the time. His father, Buck, was a prominent civil rights attorney of African American and Native American background, and a defender of African American and Native American rights.

Franklin was six years old when the Tulsa race massacre occurred. On May 31 and Jun 1, 1921, white mobs, including some who were “deputized” by police and local officials, burned and looted hundreds of buildings, murdered many African Americans, and destroyed the Greenwood district. Some observers compared the “riot,” for which no one was prosecuted, with the pogroms launched against Jewish ghettoes in the Czarist Russian empire with the collusion of Czarist police and officials 1

Buck Franklin was known in Oklahoma for his defense of the land claims of African Americans and Native Americans against the oil companies which seized their lands. (Oklahoma had been the “Indian territory” to which Native Americans were forcibly removed under Andrew Jackson’s genocidal “Indian Removal Act” before the Civil War. The discovery of oil later led to extensive “white” settlement and its gaining statehood.)

John Hope Franklin graduated from the segregated Booker T. Washington High School and then from Fiske University, a Black college, in 1935. Thanks to his own remarkable abilities and the work of a generation of pioneering scholars, especially W. E. B. Du Bois, he earned a PhD in history at Harvard University (1941), suffering many indignities at segregated research facilities as he began his lifelong journey to study African American history and “weave” it “into the fabric of American history . . . so that the story of the United States could be told adequately and fairly.” In 1947, he published From Slavery to Freedom, a general history of African Americans which has gone through eight editions and sold over 3 million copies worldwide.

In many respects Franklin’s life mirrored the struggles and achievements of the African American people, although he was spared the most recent abuses of the Trump administration. From 1947 to 1956, he taught at Howard University, the most prestigious Black university in the U.S. In the early 1950s he joined other African- merican scholars in providing research assistance to the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund as it developed the Supreme Court Case, Brown v. Board of Education, which declared school segregation to be unconstitutional.

In 1956, a year after the Montgomery Bus Boycott, he went to Brooklyn College, a tuition-free, integrated public college in New York, to become the chair of its all-white history department—the first African American to hold the chair of any history department outside African American universities, even though he faced discrimination as he sought to purchase a home.

Franklin was known for his kindness and generosity to colleagues and especially students of all backgrounds. He also was a consistent defender of civil liberties. David Levering Lewis, a former colleague of mine at Rutgers and the winner of two Pulitzer prizes for his biography of Du Bois, recalled that Franklin had defended Du Bois’s right to think and write as he saw fit in the 1950s, the essence of academic and intellectual freedom, at a time when most figures in the arts, sciences, and professions were either hailing or remaining silent about the denial of such freedoms to advocates of Marxism, communism, or any point of view which could be linked to Marxism and communism.

In 1964, the year that the most important civil rights law of the 20th century was enacted, Franklin went to the elite University of Chicago, where he later became the history department chair. As the Civil Rights movement and scholarship into the experience of African Americans grew and re-enforced one another, Franklin served as president of the American Studies Association (1967), the Southern Historical Association (1970), the Organization of American Historians (1975), and the American Historical Association (1979). In 1980, the Carter administration appointed him to the U.S. delegation to the UNESCO General Conference at Belgrade, in what was then socialist Yugoslavia. In 1995, the Clinton administration awarded him the Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award given by the U.S. government.

To use an analogy that I think he would have liked, Franklin was a kind of Jackie Robinson among U.S. historians, the first in so many areas to break down barriers of segregation and discrimination. There were other—and in one important instance—greater African American intellectuals and scholars (Du Bois), as there had been greater baseball players in the Negro leagues than Robinson, but they did not gain the access Franklin gained to the “mainstream” scholarship, government, and mass media.

Like Robinson, Franklin faced and prevailed over countless indignities and showed that scholarship—like sports teams— and society as a whole—would be better and more productive for all when there was integration and inclusion.

The honors mounted over the years—membership on presidential commissions, a research center named after him at Duke University where he spent his final years before formal retirement and then continued to be active as Professor Emeritus. But Franklin was never a token for a conservative or “liberal” establishment. He continued to write and lecture for the rest of his life, to seek to educate Americans and people everywhere on the history of African Americans and all other Americans, a history that he struggled to see fully merged through racial equality.

Franklin died on March 25, 2009, five months after witnessing the election of Barack Obama, whom he endorsed, to the presidency. Had he lived longer, Franklin would have written and spoken against the Tea Party Republicans who declared war on the Obama administration, and used his knowledge to expose and condemn their and Donald Trump’s monstrous distortions of history as a cover for their assault on civil rights and civil liberties.

In his last years, Franklin strongly supported investigations by the state of Oklahoma into the 1921 “Tulsa Race Massacre,” as the atrocity is now known. In 2010, a year after his death, a park commemorating the horror of the massacre in Tulsa was established and named “John Hope Reconciliation Park,” although real reconciliation will only be possible with the eradication of systemic racism though the U.S.

The finest tribute to John Hope Franklin would be to continue that fight against systemic racism at both its economic foundation and its ideological expression and to read his accessible and insightful works of history. Americans of all ethnicities will learn much about both African Americans and themselves.

1. Buck Franklin’s previously unknown written eyewitness account of the massacre, a 10-page typewritten manuscript, was discovered and subsequently obtained by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Recommended books

From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans. 1st ed. New York: A. A. Knopf, 1947. Last update with Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, 9th ed. McGraw-Hill Education, 2010.

Reconstruction after the Civil War. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961. An early answer to the pro-Southern treatment of Reconstruction.

The Negro in Twentieth-Century America: A Reader on the Struggle for Civil Rights. By Franklin and Isadore Starr, New York: Vintage Books, 1967.

Color and Race. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1968.

Racial Equality in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976. A significant historical analysis as the Civil Rights movement began to recede in the midst of the new stagflation economy.

Race and History: Selected Essays 1938–1988. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989. Half a century of Franklin’s essays on African Americans and their place in history.

The Color Line: Legacy for the Twenty-First Century. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1991. A significant work and warning about the persistence of racism and the need to understand it and eradicate it at the dawn of the 20th century.

My Life and an Era: The Autobiography of Buck Colbert Franklin. Edited by John Hope Franklin and John Whittington Franklin, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1997, 2000. Autobiography of Franklin’s father.

Mirror to America: The Autobiography of John Hope Franklin. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2005.


John H. Johnson

John H. Johnson, widely regarded as the most influential African American publisher in American history, was born on January 19, 1918, in Arkansas City, Arkansas, to Leroy and Gertrude Johnson Williams. Growing up in Arkansas City, no high schools existed for black students, so Johnson repeated the eighth grade to continue his education. After moving to Chicago with his family shortly thereafter, Johnson attended DuSable High School, where he graduated with honors.

After graduating from high school, Johnson went to work for the Supreme Life Insurance Company while attending the University of Chicago. While with Supreme, he was given the job of compiling weekly news clippings for his boss, which eventually gave him the idea for his first publication, Negro Digest. In 1942, after graduating from the University of Chicago, he acted on this idea, and with a $500 loan against his mother’s furniture and $6,000 raised through charter subscriptions, Johnson launched Negro Digest, which later became Black World. Three years later, he launched Ebony, which has remained the number-one African American magazine in the world every year since its founding. In 1951, Johnson Publishing expanded again, with the creation of Jet, the world’s largest African American news weekly magazine.

Johnson also expanded from magazine publishing into book publishing, and owned Fashion Fair Cosmetics, the largest black-owned cosmetics company in the world, Supreme Beauty Products, and produced television specials. Johnson also later became chairman and CEO of Supreme Life Insurance, where he had begun his career.

In addition to his business and publishing acumen, Johnson was highly involved at both community and the national level. In 1957, he accompanied then-Vice President Richard Nixon to nine African nations, and two years later, to Russia and Poland. President John F. Kennedy sent Johnson to the Ivory Coast in 1961 as Special Ambassador to the independence ceremonies taking place there, and President Johnson sent him to Kenya in 1963 for the same purpose. President Nixon later appointed him to the Commission for the Observance of the 25th Anniversary of the United Nations.

Johnson was also the recipient of numerous awards that spanned decades, from the Spingarn Medal to the Most Outstanding Black Publisher in History Award from the National Newspaper Publishers Association. Johnson Publishing has also been named the number one black business by Black Enterprise four times. In 1996, President Bill Clinton awarded Johnson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. He also received more than thirty honorary doctoral degrees from institutions across the country, and served as a board member or trustee of numerous businesses and philanthropic and cultural organizations.

Johnson’s wife, Eunice, and daughter, Linda Johnson-Rice, continue to retain full control of Johnson Publishing as the only two shareholders in the company.


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