Politics & Government

Bill Clinton gives eulogy for John Hope Franklin

DURHAM — On what would have been their 69th anniversary, the late historian John Hope Franklin and his wife, Aurelia, were honored Thursday with billowing orchids, a Duke Chapel crowd of more than a thousand, a choir and a tribute by former President Bill Clinton.

Franklin, who died in March at age 94, was a historian whose work became the foundation for the study of African-American history. Franklin himself took part in several turning points in the civil rights movement, marching with Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Ala., and helping Thurgood Marshall with research for the Brown v. Board of Education desegregation case.

The scholar had more than 135 honorary degrees and the nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Though he traveled the world and taught at the country's best universities, the distinguished gentleman with ramrod-straight posture also delighted in fly fishing, growing orchids and cooking gumbo for his friends.

Aurelia Franklin, who died in 1999, was a Goldsboro native responsible for bringing Franklin, an Oklahoman, to North Carolina. The two met at Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn. They were a powerful team, their son, John Whittington Franklin, said.

"They moved between the black and white worlds of our nation with relative ease," he said.

Highlights from Thursday's celebration:

What the president said: Clinton called the chapel service Franklin's "last gift to me."

Clinton remembered when he appointed Franklin to lead a national initiative on race in 1997. "I said, before this is over, you'll be accused of racism," Clinton told him.

Franklin soldiered on, despite being shouted down at some of the forums, and produced a "world-class report," Clinton said. The former president's last message to Congress before he left office was a challenge to leaders to deal with the unfinished business cited in Franklin's report.

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