Bill Clinton honors black historian John Hope Franklin and his wife (video)

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

Associated Press Writer

DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — The late historian John Hope Franklin was “an angry, happy man” whose work as the head of a commission on race helped pull the country together, former President Bill Clinton said Thursday.

Clinton was one of a dozen speakers at a service at Duke Chapel to honor Franklin and his wife, Aurelia, who would have celebrated their 69th wedding anniversary Thursday.
The former president elicited laughter from the crowd when he related a story about Franklin handling a woman’s racial insensitivity in 1995, the night before the historian was to receive the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

A white woman approached Franklin at a gathering he was holding at a club in Washington, D.C., ordering him to get her coat from the check room. Franklin wrote in his autobiography, “Mirror to America,” that he advised the woman to approach a club employee, all of whom wore uniforms.

“Now, we’re laughing,” Clinton said. “But the man was 80 years old. He was perhaps the most distinguished living American historian. He did write this in a funny way. And he wrote it in a way that you knew he didn’t think it was funny. He was a genius at being a passionate rationalist. An angry, happy man. A happy, angry man.”

Franklin, who taught for a decade at Duke University and was a professor emeritus of history, died in March at age 94. His wife died in 1999.

In 1997, Clinton appointed Franklin to lead his Initiative on Race. Because of that report and Franklin’s work on it, “we are a different country,” Clinton said. “For 10 years, we’ve been working to become a communitarian country. After being known as a country know by our divisions from 1968 to 2008, people know us as a country known by our unity. His life and work in no small measure helped to produce that.”

Franklin was born Jan. 2, 1915, in the all-black town of Rentiesville, Okla., and later attended historically black Fisk University, where he met his wife.

His book “From Slavery to Freedom” was a landmark integration of black history into American history that remains relevant more than 60 years after being published. As a scholar, his research helped Thurgood Marshall and his team at the NAACP win Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 case that barred the doctrine of “separate but equal” in the nation’s public schools.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.