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Black History Month

Legendary black scholar to give lecture at church

John Hope Franklin, author of a classic black history textbook, will visit St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church.

Published February 15, 2004

ST. PETERSBURG - John Hope Franklin helped NAACP lawyers launch a suit that led to one of the nation's biggest civil rights victories: the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision.

A legendary scholar whose specialties cut to the core of the American experience, Franklin will speak at a free public lecture 7 p.m. Wednesday at St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church, 1301 37th St. S.

"He's beyond a legend. You have to invent a new word for him," said Raymond Arsenault, who holds the endowed professorship named for Franklin at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

Arsenault, also an acclaimed civil rights historian, will join Franklin on Wednesday in what is the first of several community gatherings scheduled through May to discuss the impact of the Brown decision.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the ruling that helped slam a door on Jim Crow and open another to equal educational opportunities, regardless of race.

Still an energetic presence at 89, Franklin has been a frequent winter visitor to St. Petersburg since the mid 1980s.

His schedule this year has approached the hectic.

Late last month, he attended the Zora Neale Hurston festival in Eatonville. He flew back to North Carolina, where he is a Duke University professor emeritus.

Then it was back in St. Petersburg in time to meet author Norman Mailer at the Suncoast Writers Conference. The literary giant and the history icon shook hands and posed for photos.

Thursday, he spent nearly three hours filming a segment about the Brown decision for the Smithsonian Institution.

On Friday, Franklin was scheduled to testify by telephone for court records about the 1921 Tulsa race riot. Franklin was a 6-year-old living in Tulsa's Greenwood neighborhood, where about 1,000 homes and businesses were destroyed and up to 300 people died in what is considered one of the worst race riots in the nation's history.

Earlier Friday, he spoke to the St. Petersburg Rotary Club, encouraging members to write their individual stories.

"You can be your own autobiographer and as a result, contribute to the history of your community, your state and nation," he said.

Franklin already was an established academician when the Supreme Court handed down its decision during the Eisenhower presidency.

He published in 1947 what came to be considered his masterpiece: From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans. During a 60-year career, Franklin became a pre-eminent scholar of Southern history, race and the African-American experience.

He won wide recognition as the chairman of former President Bill Clinton's Initiative on Race, and he served as historical consultant for Steven Spielberg's 1997 Amistad film. Franklin is the subject of First Person Singular: John Hope Franklin, a PBS biography.

And in 1999, the PBS documentary Race and Reconciliation: A Journey Towards Peace featured Franklin and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

[Last modified February 15, 2004, 01:15:45]

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