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ΦBK Statement on the Death of John Hope Franklin

For Immediate Release   Kelly Gerald
March 27, 2009   Phone: (202) 745-3239
Allison Blakely, President
The Phi Beta Kappa Society
March 27, 2009
John Hope Franklin
Phi Beta Kappa will always celebrate the remarkable life of John Hope Franklin. Among the Society’s most illustrious presidents (1973-1976), he was also an extraordinary exemplar of its motto, “love of learning is the guide of life,” and its core principles symbolized by the three stars on its gold key: “friendship, morality, and learning.” The early nineteenth-century Phi Beta Kappan Ralph Waldo Emerson in his oration “The American Scholar” explicated these with great poignancy, specifying that such learning could best be attained through harmony with nature, the study of history, and informed action. To a rare degree, John Hope Franklin’s life epitomized this combination of qualities. Clearly one of the leading historians of his time, and a staunch activist for social justice, he simultaneously pursued his passions for fly-fishing and raising orchids.
Phi Beta Kappa was just one of many organizations where Franklin broke down longstanding racial barriers to leadership. In his autobiography, Mirror to America, he wryly observed, in a characteristically modest fashion, that this resulted from the fact that he was never able to be a passive member of any organization to which he belonged, and that this led to his having been “rewarded” with additional responsibilities. This was consistent with views he expressed elsewhere regarding leadership. He cautioned against focusing on one individual to lead a given cause or organization, urging participation by all members. He also remained cognizant that his own singular achievements were just a beginning, not a signal that the struggle for equal opportunity was over. During his tenure as Phi Beta Kappa president he delivered three lectures as the fifth National Endowment for the Humanities Jefferson Lecturer, which affords us a fortunate sampling of his thinking during that time period. In the first lecture, before an audience of three thousand in Washington, D.C.’s Constitution Hall, he borrowed a term from the poet Langston Hughes in addressing “The Dream Deferred.” His commitment to moral consistency was such that, while fully aware that his lectureship was a tribute to Thomas Jefferson, he did not hesitate to criticize the latter’s ambivalence that contributed to the perpetuation of slavery and delayed the advancement of human rights.
John Hope Franklin was truly a Phi Beta Kappan for all seasons, and I feel privileged to have known him personally as a mentor and friend.
Allison Blakely, President
The Phi Beta Kappa Society

Love of learning is the guide of life.