From Slavery to Freedom Critical Essays

John Hope Franklin


(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

John Hope Franklin’s From Slavery to Freedom has proven of fourfold importance. It substantiated in impressive scholarly detail and critical analysis the history of African Americans. Its scholarship laid the groundwork for the academic discipline of black and African American studies. Its historiographic and academic achievements lent momentum to the developing cultural consciousness of African American achievement in the latter part of the twentieth century. Finally, this developing consciousness encouraged the parallel evolution of academic scholarship in relation to Hispanic, women’s, and gay and lesbian studies.

The scholarly balance and objectivity in From Slavery to Freedom countered charges of racial “chauvinism” that had appeared in previous efforts at such history by other writers. Franklin, nonetheless, has emphasized that his work did advocate racial “vindication” in order to counter prejudices regarding racial “inferiority.” He felt that he needed to incorporate into U.S. history an adequate sense of the presence of African Americans to make the narrative of the American past both complete and fair.

Franklin has himself been an agent for political change. Following publication of the first edition of From Slavery to Freedom, he worked with the legal defense office of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to develop the case for Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the Supreme Court decision that ended racial segregation in public schools. In 1997, President Bill Clinton appointed Franklin to chair the advisory board of the newly created President’s Initiative on Race.