We ought to have a history worthy of the principles of truth. We must revise our way of looking at our own history-that is, the history of the United States. We must be willing to criticize the past, including our own institutions and the men who made them. We must be willing to re-write our textbooks in the light of the abundance of available materials that deny the exclusive role of one race of Americans. We must be willing to teach a history that is itself revisionist. The search for truth is never-ending, but the way to begin is to be willing to seek it. Only in this way can we arrive at a point in our writings, and in our teachings, and in our study, where what we tell about our past is inspired more by justice than by pride; and where truth, though strange, is more important than fiction. (John Hope Franklin, April 3, 1969, on the eve of the first anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination)
Dr. John Hope Franklin, by Simmie Knox. The portrait hangs at Duke University in Perkins Library's Gothic Reading Room.
The John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American Documentation was established in November 1995. Later the Center was renamed the John Hope Franklin Collection of African and African American Documentation to avoid confusion with Duke's John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary and International Studies. The John Hope Franklin Collection (JHFC) is committed to preserving and making available pertinent printed and manuscript materials for the use of students, scholars, and other researchers. It embraces the additional charge of working to make primary source materials an exciting and integral part of instruction and discovery at the secondary and collegiate levels.
The development of African American holdings at Duke University reaches back to the days of Trinity College and the interest of John Spencer Bassett and William K. Boyd. The library's early concerted efforts to document life and labor in the plantation South netted collections with important materials on the African American experience, although mostly from a white perspective. In an attempt to tell the black experience from its own point of view, in the 1970s, the library began to augment its African American book and manuscript holdings by collecting the professional and personal papers of important local and regional African American individuals and institutions.
One feels the excitement of hearing an untold story…
When John Hope Franklin, James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of History, offered his papers as the cornerstone of the collection, he said, "I believe by placing my papers here I can help the development of a strong center for African American studies. I hope my papers will assist in making this a very important place for this kind of intellectual and literary activity." Notable acquisitions over the past ten years include papers from Nell Irvin Painter (a leading historian of the United States and the Edwards Professor of American History at Princeton University), Chuck Stone (a journalistic legend and the former Walter Spearman Professor of Journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), and James Joseph (former United States Ambassador to South Africa and Professor of the Practice of Public Policy Studies at Duke University), as well as large institutional collections including the Duke Center for Documentary Studies' Behind the Veil Oral History Project, comprising more than 1,000 oral histories gathered from black southerners who lived during the period of legal segregation, and the Leroy T. Walker Africa News Service Collection, an extensive file of resources covering Africa related issues and U.S. foreign policy towards Africa.
Soon after its founding, the JHFC began building a comprehensive collection of autobiographies and other first-person accounts by African Americans who lived during the era of Jim Crow segregation. These narratives, which comprise the Black Voices Collection, address the silences that appear in the history of the segregated South, providing written testimony about the texture of black life during a period of profound repression. The autobiographies of preachers, teachers, evangelists, missionaries, lawyers, physicians, soldiers, politicians, activists, journalists, and entrepreneurs, most of whom were former slaves or children of slaves, provides ample testimony to black survival and resistance to white supremacy in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In addition, from Memoires de Josephine Baker (Paris: Corraea, 1949) to Reggie: A Season with a Superstar (Chicago: Playboy Press, 1975), and A Negro Explorer at the North Pole (New York: F. Stokes, 1912), the JHFC also seeks to assemble one of the most extensive collections of African American autobiographies in the nation.
Ten Years of Documenting African and African American History
On November 18, 2005, the John Hope Franklin Collection of African and African American Documentation will celebrate its 10th anniversary. The celebration will be marked by a one-day symposium, "Cross Currents: Documenting African and African American Life," which aims to create constructive dialogue about interactions between African-descended peoples in the contemporary world, will contain three primary conversations: "African American Autobiography," "African Americans in Africa," and "Documenting Durham's 'New' African Voice."
The program will culminate in a reading by John Hope Franklin from his new book, Vintage Years: The Autobiography of John Hope Franklin. A book signing and reception will follow. Celebrating ten years of collecting, documenting, and educating the public about African and African American life, the JHFC will continue acquiring materials related to the history of people of African heritage from across the globe and providing an intellectual space worthy of those seeking the principles of truth.
The John Hope Franklin Collection's online resources, including online copies of its newsletter, can be found at <http://scriptorium.lib.duke.edu/franklin>.
Karen Jean Hunt, Director
John Hope Franklin Collection of
African and African American Documentation,
Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library