Interview with John Hope Franklin
Interview with John Hope Franklin
Interview Date: March 04, 1992

Camera Rolls: 317:51-55
Sound Rolls: 317:27-29
Interview gathered as part of The Great Depression .
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Editorial Notes:

Preferred citation:
Interview with John Hope Franklin , conducted by Blackside, Inc. on December 19, 1992, for The Great Depression . Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.

These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of The Great Depression.

*
INTERVIEW
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[camera roll 317:51] [sound roll 317:27] [slate marker visible on screen]
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QUESTION 1
INTERVIEWER:

In your, again, in the essay "A Life of Learning," you mention, you say that you found great, sort of, traumatic and personal embarrassment about the Depression that you've carried with you in your life. Can you tell me, describe what that feeling is and, and what you took away from it, and how it's affected your life, how the Depression has affected your life?

JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN:

Well, I suppose that the first real trauma of the, of the Depression came from the fact that my father was a lawyer in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and had a clientele which was either all black or nearly all black. And they were, while he was a popular lawyer with lots of business, they were unable to pay him, because they were unemployed for the most part, or certainly they didn't have any substantial attorney's fee to offer for the services which he performed. And so I, I began to see my father as really as what I thought was a poor businessman. We don't have much. Why don't we? He's busy all the time. These aren't paying him. And one of the reasons I wanted to become a lawyer and go back and practice law with my father was to make him a success, that is, that I would know how to get the money out of these people. And, in that, in that way he would be fulfilled in the way that I thought he deserved to be. I didn't realize the depth of the Depression, and I don't think I realized it until I got in college. I graduated from Fisk, from Booker T. Washington high school when I was sixteen, and went on to Fisk while I was still sixteen. And during that first year I worked, but that was, that didn't bother me. And I realized that I had to work in order to help with my fees and so forth. But then at the end of that year, that first year in college, my brother, who had graduated from Fisk two years before, and who was now teaching in, back in Tulsa County, came for my sister and me. We were both freshmen together. She, we were born just thirteen months apart. Came for my sister and me in my father's automobile. That didn't strike me as odd, although I later learned that he came to me so that he could transport us both back to Tulsa for less than the railroad fare for two people would be. But when we got to Tulsa, we didn't go in the direction that I knew our home was, and instead he turned the other street, and finally got to a street where I knew that my father had built a small four-family flat, an apartment. And he stopped in front of this place. And I said, "What are you stopping for?" He said, "This is where we live." My father had lost our home. And when he had the option of losing our home or losing that piece of property, part of which was income property, he decided to give up the home, live in part of that apartment building, and rent out the rest of it. I...it is impossible for me to tell you how, what a remarkable impact that had on me in, in the way, in a manner of depressing me and disappointing me, and of feeling really homeless. And it caused me to have an attitude toward money, toward thrift and that sort of thing that I don't believe I would have had otherwise. And although I had no way of asserting it then, I was determined that I would remain, shall we say, solvent for the remainder of my life if I possibly could. That explains my attitude towards credit cards and  [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] . It explains my feeling that if I can't afford to purchase something, I shouldn't purchase it. It explains my desperate attempt in every instance where I have purchased a home to pay for it as rapidly as possible so that I won't be evicted. This, this notion of being evicted was always with me, you see. And I never, I never  [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] , when we were purchasing our home in Chicago, whenever I got any extra money, I would double up the payments. And a great day of freedom came when I made the last payment on that house, you see.

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QUESTION 2
INTERVIEWER:

OK. How old were you, going back again to your childhood, back to the memoir, how old were you when you first as a child, or whenever you were, how old were you when you first saw a white school? I assume you went to black schools. When you first saw a white school, and you saw the difference between where you went to school and what they did, what was your reaction?

JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN:

Well, you see, I grew up in all black town until I was ten years. And obviously I didn't see a white school in that period of time. We would go to a small town, Checotah, to shop, or we would go to Muskogee, where I had my first encounter with an eye specialist. When I was five years old. I began to wear glasses. But I didn't, I don't remember seeing any white schools at that time. It was after I went to Tulsa when I was ten years old that I saw the difference between Booker T. Washington High School where I went—it was a comprehensive school, they called it a high school because, but, but from the elementary, it was K-12—that, the difference between that school and Central High, which was the white school, was almost the difference between night and day. And I saw Central High shortly after I moved to Tulsa, so that I would say I was ten or eleven at the time, I saw that white children had certain kinds of certain kinds of facilities for education, and blacks had certain other, quite inferior, kinds of facilities for their education.

INTERVIEWER:

OK. Can you cut for a second, Michael?

[cut][slate]
INTERVIEWER:

OK. Want to tell me about that first incident?

JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN:

When I went to Nashville as a freshman to attend Fisk University in 1931, I had a searing racial experience which remained with me for the rest of my life. And that was when I went into town, the city of Nashville, on the street car and did some shopping. When I got ready to return to the campus, I went to the transfer station, where one got, changed his money, one got a ticket. And I had only a twenty dollar bill. And I said to the ticket, the man in the ticket window that, "I'm sorry I have only a twenty dollar bill. You can give it back to me, you can give me change in ones or whatever." And he says, "Listen. No nigger is going to ever tell me how to make change! Now you remember that." And with that, he gave me the nineteen-plus dollars in nickels and dimes. And I walked away from there realizing that this, that I would have to avoid, as much as possible, any brushes or contacts with people like that one. And so it certainly did have a lot to do with my going into town as infrequently as I possibly could, because I wanted to avoid him and all people like him.

INTERVIEWER:

Nice. Great.

[cut][slate][change to camera roll 317:52]
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QUESTION 3
INTERVIEWER:

So, what happened to...his name's Cordie Cheek, right?

JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN:

When I was a senior at Fisk, and was president of the student government there, a young teenager living in a home very near the campus, owned by the university the house was, but he was not connected with Fisk himself, was riding his bicycle and struck a white child. Did not kill the child, but struck the white child. And the town became enraged that this would happen. And he was taken, literally taken away from his house one day by a mob, and taken to the edge of the city and lynched. When word got back that that had happened, the campus was ablaze with fury, not only that a black child had been lynched for no good reason at all, but that he'd been taken really from the Fisk campus, as it were. And the result was that the students were up in arms and immediately began the demand that there be some kind of expression of resentment and outrage at this travesty.

INTERVIEWER:

So, we'd better cut for a second, because I'm  [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ] 

[cut][slate]
INTERVIEWER:

 [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ] 

JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN:

One of the things that the students did immediately was to hold a mass meeting, at which time they discussed what they should do. Interestingly enough, at that mass meeting Mrs. James Weldon Johnson was present and suggested that we ought to do what they did in 1917, that is, to protest lynching, namely, to have a march, a silent protest parade. In the case of 1917, it was down Fifth Avenue, but now through downtown Nashville. That was knocked around, but it was discarded. But we did decide that we would present a petition to the President of the United States, who was coming through Nashville, visiting Fisk University, on his way to Warm Springs, Georgia, in November 1934. So, as president of the student government, I began to get this petition together. It disturbed the president of Fisk University that we would do this to the guest of the university, namely the President of the United States. So he persuaded us to desist from that, and assured us that if we did not try to present the president with a petition when he was on Fisk's campus, then he would see to it that we got a chance to visit the president at Warm Springs, Georgia, and present him with a petition there asking him to speak out against lynching and asking him to support an anti-lynching bill. We bought this suggestion, and as a result, several hours, we went to Warm, went to Atlanta, Georgia, where we were, were to await word when we could go to Warm Springs, Georgia. That word never came, and I think the contact probably was never made with the president.

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QUESTION 4
INTERVIEWER:

Yes. In your memoirs, again, we talked about this earlier, the, the incident in Cambridge, at Harvard, at the Henry Adams club.

JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN:

Oh yes.

INTERVIEWER:

This was your first contact—you called it the most traumatic, your most traumatic social experience at Harvard. Can you describe what that was, and how that came about, and how it affected you?

JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN:

The most traumatic social experience that I had during my years of graduate study at Harvard University came really in the, at—toward the end of the first year of my graduate work. I was a member of the Henry Adams Club, the club of students of American history, and we were getting ready to elect officers for the following year. I was placed on the nominating committee. I suppose that would take care of me, because one didn't nominate anyone from the nominating committee. But then, when the question arose "Whom should we have for president?" a certain brilliant, extraordinary, outstanding student was suggested by me. I said, "It's obvious whom we should have!" and I named him. And the members of the committee looked at each other, and then one of them said that, "Well, to be sure, he does not have all of the objectionable characteristics of Jews, but he's a Jew." Well, I'd never experienced anything even resembling or suggesting that. I did not know what they were talking about. I'd never thought about this person as Jewish. And if I had, I wouldn't have known what that meant, except that he perhaps was, belonged to a religion that was Jewish. So all of these overtones of "objectionable characteristics" and so forth simply flew in the face of me. And it was, I took it personally, because I had made the judgment that this was the outstanding student at Harvard in American history, and that he deserved this recognition. And why shouldn't he be commended? And I wrestled with that. I think I wrestled with that so much within myself, trying merely to understand what they were talking about, that I, I really lost track of the main problem, namely of getting a president for the Henry Adams Club. I'll remember that for the rest of my life. I'd like to say that those so-and-sos, those others, some of them didn't ever get through their graduate work, either. [laughs]

INTERVIEWER:

Cut for a second, for a moment.

[cut][slate]
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QUESTION 5
INTERVIEWER:

So, from a personal standpoint, in Tulsa—

JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN:

Tulsa was one of the most segregated cities that one can even imagine. Not only were blacks and whites separated, but, institution-wise, from every conceivably way, not only in churches, not only in schools, but also the entertainment was entirely separate. In most cities, Nashville, for example, you have segregated parts of a movie house, you see. Blacks could go up in the gallery or over the side. But not in, not in Tulsa. You didn't go to the same movie houses. So there were two motion picture houses that blacks attended in the black part of town that whites did not go to. One was owned, by the way, by a white man. The other was owned by a black man. Not only did we see movies at these theaters, but we saw live shows, vaudeville shows, people being brought in one, for one night stands and that sort of thing. The Nicholas Brothers and Whitman Sisters and what, all the rest of it. It was, it was really quite something. They did not play in Tulsa at the white places. They simply went on through. One had the feeling as one looked at these shows, one had the feeling that these people were really very good. They were talented. They were stars. And we liked that. The, of course, the motion pictures that we saw were, all of them that I can remember, motion pictures of whites, primarily whites. There might be a white character here or there in some servile role. But, but we didn't see, I didn't see a motion picture by or for blacks at when I was growing up at all. There was, of course the motion picture industry was not interested in, in that. And so aside from a few black motion picture producers about whom I was to hear later, aside from them, there simply was not the opportunity. And so we grew up going to the movies, seeing cowboys shows and the like, and seeing these live vaudeville musical shows. That's, that's what the entertainment was.

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QUESTION 6
INTERVIEWER:

So, the white people, the white people, though, what would they see? What image would they have, if any, of black, of black people at that time? Again, think about the 30s.

JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN:

I, I would suppose that their, their image was, was enlarged from these minor roles that these blacks had. I can remember very well being in downtown Tulsa, white Tulsa, and being asked by some white man, said, "I'll give you a quarter if you'll dance," you see. I was, of course, I, I ignored him, I just didn't even stop to, to talk with him about it, because I was simply of, of the type. But he must've got that impression from somewhere, some, some experience, either—

[audio only]
JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN:

—on the silver screen, so to speak, or in his personal experiences. He thought blacks were enterainers, all blacks could entertain, all blacks could dance, I suppose he thought. And thus he would approach me. I suppose that's the best I can envision of what they experienced as—

INTERVIEWER:

OK. We've just run out of film. We got, we got, we got—good.

[cut][slate][change to camera roll 317:53][change to sound roll 317:28]
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QUESTION 7
INTERVIEWER:

You told me before, but the strategy for, you know, his desegregation strategy, at least at that point in the, in the mid-30s, what his strategy was to kind of break down desegregation [sic] in education.

JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN:

When I first met Charles Houston, he was travelling through the South to do several things. One was to find clients, that is, to find black parents who are willing to join in legal action against segregated education. That was one thing he was doing. Another thing he was doing was trying to get the general public, the general African-American public, to understand the importance of legal action, resorting to the courts to redress their grievances. And I think another he was doing was to try to increase the awareness of blacks of the importance of voting, and getting, getting out the vote in places where they could vote, and contesting the discrimination in places where they could not vote. So when he came to Fisk University in my junior year, that would be '33/'34, he was, he had been, he and Andrew Ransom had been travelling on these various missions, and he spoke at Fisk, and that's the first time I heard him talk about the importance of, of legal action to challenge the segregated laws themselves, to get litigants who were willing to stand up and say that they were discriminated against, and to insist upon equality, and, and gradually to develop the notion that equality meant desegregation. I think, though, that this, the, the, the refinement of that position came with Thurgood Marshall, and not with Houston. But the whole approach to legal action for civil rights was the Houston approach, and a man who was deeply dedicated to it, deeply committed, who really literally gave his life for this cause.

INTERVIEWER:

Yeah, we're going to cut.

[cut][slate]
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QUESTION 8
INTERVIEWER:

So, if you will first tell us your reaction to the, the Murray v. Maryland, and that victory, but then what its ramifications—

JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN:

Well, the victory of Murray against the University of Maryland was of course a very immediate concern to me, because I was a graduate student myself and was interested in, not in going to professional school, I had given up the law, the study of the law, but history was my thing then. But it didn't, although, although we appreciated it very much, the fact that this was a breakthrough, we also understood that it was not to be generalized, that is, beyond Maryland. For after all, I was a citizen, I guess you can call it that, of a segregated state. And there was no impact of that decision on the state of Oklahoma, which would still reject from the University of Oklahoma graduate school, and would instead pay my tuition at Harvard University if I got up there and was admitted and made the grades and sent them to the state of Oklahoma. Then they would pay a fraction of my tuition. And it remained like that until, really until the late '40s or very early '50s.

INTERVIEWER:

Great.

[cut][slate]
INTERVIEWER:

So, let's try again, with Donald Gaines Murray v. Maryland, and what kind of ramifications it did or didn't have.

JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN:

Of course, when the decision was handed down in Gaines Murray against University of Maryland, I personally was very interested in it, because, after all, that was the year that I was going to graduate school. Not to professional school, for sure, but I was interested in going to graduate school. I'm not at all certain, though, that the impact of that decision was, was widespread or was widely appreciated. For after all, how many blacks would be interested in going to law school? And how could you generalize that decision so that it would apply to graduate students and undergraduate students? It did not play in that way. As for me, a student at the, at, at Harvard University from Oklahoma, I got no benefit from the Gaines decision. As a matter of fact, if anything, Oklahoma decided to move in the other direction. So what, what I got was, I was permitted by Harvard University to come there, to study, and to perform. If I was successful in that, then I would notify the state of Oklahoma, which in turn would give me a fraction of the tuition that I had paid months before, you see. So there really wasn't very much general benefit that came out of that decision, and would not be until the late '40s and early '50s that, that students generally would benefit from Supreme Court decisions in higher education.

INTERVIEWER:

Great. Cut.

[cut][slate][unintelligible]
INTERVIEWER:

OK.

JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN:

There have been people who have said blacks were not interested in international affairs. I won't argue the point generally, but I will say that they were interested in the conflict between Ethiopia and Italy. They were very much distressed that, that Mussolini would invade Ethiopia and would undertake to subjugate it, as he undertook to do in the 1930s. And I would argue that blacks followed that. I know I did. But I'm not, I'm not referring merely to me. I know blacks of various levels of education and sensitivity with respect to international affairs generally, were quite anxious to keep with the score, if nothing else. "What's the score between Mussolini and, and Ethiopia?" And of course the, the Emperor Haile Selassie became a great hero in black community in the United States at that time, because of his stand against Mussolini. I don't believe that there were large numbers of blacks who understood the history of the whole conflict that when all the way back to Menelik, the Emperor Menelik in the late 19th century, and his conflicts with Europe. But, but putting that aside, they certainly were aware of it. Now, you read the newspapers in this period, the black press, the black press keeps up with this great care. We've had students to write dissertations on the subject, and there's no question but that the black press was interested. And through the black press, the black public was generally interested in the subject.

INTERVIEWER:

Not to belabor the obvious, but for the students, you know, the young people who were going to do it, why did they take, why did, why did black Americans take this so personally?

JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN:

Well, here was a great European power undertaking to oppress one of the few black nations in the world. After all, this was, most of, most of Africa was gone, that is, was gone into the colonial orbit, you see. And only, only a few places, and Ethiopia was one of them, where there was an independent country with a, with a, with a ruler that was black. And it was a source of considerable pride that, that, that there was at least one, one black nation with a leader, a black leader. And I think that there was no question but that they wanted Ethiopia to win.
**[laughs] And they were, they were rooting for the emperor all the way.

INTERVIEWER:

Great. Now, do you think—sorry, are you running out?

CAMERA CREW MEMBER

Yes.

[cut][slate][change to camera roll 317:54]
JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN:

—out of my element.

INTERVIEWER:

OK. You ready? OK. So—

JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN:

I think there was a certain respect in this country for fascism. I'm not referring to the kind of admiration that various groups like Father Coughlin would inspire, but I'm talking about the general impression that Americans seem to have had in the 1930s that fascism was, was effective, efficient, was, was orderly, and that had objectives that could be admired, such as building efficient, well-run factories, making the railroads run on time, as so many people would say at that time. And at a time when our own economy was floundering and uncertain, and at a time when we did not seem to know how we were going to get out of our own very difficult dilemmas, that we could see that there was someone who was working through this problem. And so I think that in that way Mussolini and fascism generally inspired some admiration and attention in this country.

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QUESTION 9
INTERVIEWER:

OK. Now, Joe Louis, why do you think, why do you think Joe Louis was so important to these people. He was a boxer. I mean, he wasn't, he wasn't a scientist, he wasn't an artist. He was a boxer. What was it about Joe Louis that had such great appeal to people?

JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN:

Well, of course, he was the greatest boxer of his time, and I think people always admire greatness, regardless of what it's in. Don't forget that blacks had had a champion once in Jack Johnson, and he was greatly admired. And blacks always seemed to feel that Johnson was brought down by white people, deliberately brought down by white people. So that here is a, here is the Brown Bomber, as they called him. He inspired pride. He was honest, unassuming. He was highly skilled in his area, and that was to be admired. And he was a kind of vindication of Johnson and of black people, and therefore they, they, they greatly admired him. Now, he came to be admired even more when, when he became something of a symbol of, of, not only of the greatness of black people, but of this country in his, in the two bouts with, with Max Schmeling, and he seemed to have personified the struggle of this country against Nazism. And when he was, when he lost the first fight, that was, that sent this country and certainly black people into the doldrums from which they never seemed to recover. Until he won the second fight! And with that, the nation was vindicated, blacks were vindicated, Nazism was put down
** , and, and it seemed that they would live happily ever after.

INTERVIEWER:

OK. Cut for a second. Good.

[cut][slate]
INTERVIEWER:

 [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ]  ...talk about Jesse.

JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN:

It's very interesting that after Max Schmeling won the first fight with Joe Louis, and blacks following them were very much distressed and humiliated, they didn't have to wait long for a real triumph. And that was when Jesse Owens went to Berlin for the Olympics
** , where he won several gold medals, and to the, to the consternation of Hitler, and to the delight of Americans, and particularly African-Americans. And, if anything, the fact that Hitler could not bear the notion of a black man winning these medals, and who before the entire world gave him something of a cold shoulder, that certainly made black Americans realize that this, this Aryanism was the very worst kind of racism. And they, and that they had, Hitler has sort of been rubbed in the face by Owens and by the victory of Owens.

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QUESTION 10
INTERVIEWER:

Great, great. That's wonderful. Thank you. Since we're talking about Nazism and the Aryanism, was there concern with the black community for what was going on with the Jews in Europe? Did that evolve? Was there some point in which, I mean, were, were African-Americans aware in their own right, or did they have too many troubles of their own?

JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN:

I actually am not at all certain about that. It's very difficult, you see—

[cut][slate]
INTERVIEWER:

—and yet still, somehow FDR came on the—

JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN:

—but you see, they didn't say all that, then. They didn't say it then.

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QUESTION 11
INTERVIEWER:

OK. Well, let's talk about FDR and his relationship to the, you know, black, you know, population, community, or all those people. OK?

JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN:

Franklin D. Roosevelt inspired large numbers of blacks, I think in part because he was handicapped himself. And although was not publicized as much as it might have been, blacks knew that he was a victim of polio, that he couldn't walk, and that he had overcome these handicaps. That was one thing. Another thing is that, in contrast to the inactivity of, say, a Herbert Hoover, or an indifference of a Calvin Coolidge. This man was up at at 'em. He hit the ground rolling, so to speak, and that was inpsiring, that he had, he had something to say. He had a purpose, had a message, had a program. And it seemed that was better than the inertia that preceded things. Now, he did a few things that one might call cosmetic. In impressing that he was on their side, he had what we later called the "black cabinet," that is, a number of blacks who were advisors to him. And these people, while really not in, in policy positions, nevertheless were names, and were referred to as people, as some considerable weight in the government. And that, I think, was magnified considerably in the black community. And even though it might not have been very much, it was, it was more than blacks had ever had in the executive part of the government. So the people like, like Weaver, Robert Weaver, Mrs. Mary McLeod Bethune, William J. Thompkins, others, they were greatly admired in the black community, because it seemed as if they were just going in and out of the White House and having all this influence. Well, to be sure, they did not have very much influence. I think that's quite clear now. And the influence they had they might have had through Mrs. Roosevelt more than through the president himself. Meanwhile, the, the, the policies of the New Deal were not terribly liberal when it came to race. Surely, the housing program maintained the standards of segregation, principles of segregation, that prevailed before Roosevelt. The Tennessee Valley Authority, this remarkably revolutionary program that brought the South up in many ways, gave it industry and recreation and electrification and so forth, the policies with respect for blacks were very, very poor. And, and it, nothing was significantly changed in the relationships with people and the employment opportunities and that sort of thing than what they had been before the New Deal. But there was a kind of, I hate to say it, a kind of trickle down effect after all, that if the economy were being raised generally, then blacks were benefitting somewhat. I think that they benefitted, for example, in the Farm Security Program. But that was a program that was under fire, probably more than any other program, by whites, because the administrators in this area were apparently much more liberal than the administrators in some other areas, and perhaps more liberal than the president himself was or wanted them to be, if they got away with it, but were under fire from whites for being too liberal.

INTERVIEWER:

You mentioned Mrs. Roosevelt. What about her relationship to the black community? How did people feel about her? We just rolled out?

[cut][slate][change to camera roll 317:55][change to sound roll 317:29]
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QUESTION 12
INTERVIEWER:

I want to talk about that day, that moment.

JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN:

I can remember it well. I was in Raleigh, North Carolina doing work on my doctoral dissertation. But I took Sunday off, and with a dear friend of mine, the late Emory Johnson, we drove to Goldsboro, North Carolina, the home of my fiancee. And we spent the afternoon with my future mother-in-law. And of course the one thing we wanted to do was to hear the Marian Anderson concert. Emory Johnson was anxious to hear it. I was anxious to hear it. And my mother, my future mother-in-law was even more anxious to hear it, I think. And so we sat and listened with great intensity to this, this great voice. But it was not just a great voice. It was a great experience. We were moved by the, by the fact that this modest young woman had become a kind of instrument to show the world what bigotry could attempt and could not succeed in doing, namely, to silence a golden voice. So that we were thrilled, there's no other word for it. We were thrilled when Ms. Anderson was introduced, and when she came out to sing and to entertain that vast audience before the Lincoln Memorial. A lot, a great deal was left to our imagination. There was no television, you see. And therefore we could just sit there with our eyes closed and visualize the great scene that we saw in pictures. And it's, it's, it's an experience that I shall never forget.

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QUESTION 13
INTERVIEWER:

Thank you. Did you, to switch entirely, but, the '30s, we talked about this, the '30s being a time of activism and, you know, particularly regarding the anti-lynching law, there was a lot of push for that. What was it about the times that made this such a vibrant period, even with all the misery? There was, there was a lot of urgency in political action, labor action, the, the anti-lynching campaign. What was it about this time?

JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN:

I think that we were waking up from a long period of lethargy that was a part of the early years of, of the Depression. And how do you, how do you, how do you get beyond this? How do you pull out of this? You pull out of it by having programs of one kind or another that will focus on the problems of the day, problems being the economy, being voting, civil rights, and political rights. And, and so, in all these areas, you had action, activity. The labor unions were active, and of course they found in the federal government that is under the leadersip of Roosevelt, they found a very good friend who, and through him and people like Senator Wagner you get very effective legislation. They found that the, that the political process was being opened up. Not only was the white primary under fire, but blacks were pressing for voting opportunities. Then you had efforts being made to, to protect blacks in their rights, their, their civil rights. And you had drives against lynching and drives in favor of anti-lynching legislation. And while these drives did not materialize anything effectively, they show a certain vitality, a certain liveliness in the area, in the period, that you simply, that, that was itself very impressive. Then, of course, there is, there is the swing of the pendulum from the conservatism of the '20s to the radicalism of the '30s. And the example of something, something that's going on, say, in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics that might be, that might have some impact on the United States and its problems. And so you got a swing of the pendulum toward radicalism. And you had the, the upsurge of the Communist Party in the United States, and the effort to, to join hands with the liberal labor movement, the liberal civil rights/racial movement, so forth, and that added to the ferment and to the activity that one witnesses especially in the '30s, and to a lesser extent in the '40s.

INTERVIEWER:

Was there something about the economy that brought up ferment? Do you think the economy had something to do with it, or was it more the government, the New Deal, and the, the, the programs?

JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN:

Well, it was that the, that people felt that, that the way in which you pulled yourself out of the economic doldrums was through government action. And that's, that's, that was the nexus, the was the connection between the economy on the one hand, and all this activity on the other. That the, the, the, the industrialists, financiers, were lying down and playing dead, so to speak. And the government was the thing, was the instrument of change, and that's where you got that connection between the economy and government.

INTERVIEWER:

Good. Thanks. Cut.

[cut][slate]
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QUESTION 14
INTERVIEWER:

OK. So why was Mrs. Roosevelt such a friend to the—why was this a great affinity?

JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN:

Mrs. Roosvelt was a, a person of, of considerable sensitivity to social problems, racial problems, and the like. I think it was much more so than her husband. And I think that African-Americans very early realized that. And she became a favorite person. She was one that blacks felt they could reach. And people like Walter White on the one hand and Mary McLeod Bethune on the other could get her ear. It was widely believed, and I'm sure Mrs. Bethune encouraged this, that Mrs. Roosevelt and Mrs. Bethune were very close friends. Mrs. Roosevelt moved with ease in the black community. She would go to Howard University to speak. She would go to speak before the Women's Federation clubs, visit black college in various parts of the country. She would attend civic meetings and interracial meetings, therefore giving her blessing to the joint effort of blacks and whites to solve their problems together. Thus, Mrs. Roosevelt became a kind of intermediary between the administration on one hand and the black community on the other. And there was the belief that you could reach the president through her. And I have no doubt that on occasion that did occur. So that she was widely and greatly admired. I remember so well in 1945, it turned out to be just a matter of days before the president's death, that she came to Bennett college, where I was teaching a course—

INTERVIEWER:

Excuse me, I'm sorry. Can you cut for a second? I'm sorry. I wanted—

[cut]
[end of interview]