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Mirror to America: The Autobiography of John Hope Franklin Hardcover – October 13, 2005

4.6 out of 5 stars 45 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

At 90, Franklin recalls his extraordinary life. Born in the Oklahoma territory in 1915 and descended from slaves, he studied at Harvard, taught at some of the nation's most prestigious universities, served on committees for FDR and Bill Clinton, published seminal histories of blacks in America and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work in civil rights. Franklin strove to evade the draft in WWII after being treated shamefully by the draft board when he tried to enlist, and did research for Thurgood Marshall in Brown v. Board of Education. Every aspect of Franklin's life has been influenced by the institutionalized racism he's experienced since he was six, when he was forced off a train for sitting in a car reserved for whites. Yet Franklin relates this all in dry, flat prose steeped in minutiae. The larger aspects of his life are glossed over; missing entirely is the emotional response to the ubiquitous racism. Nor does Franklin contextualize his experiences (e.g., in 1945, he refused to move to the back of the bus, but he fails to juxtapose this event with the Rosa Parks incident 10 years later). This disappointing autobiography fails to depict Franklin as the trailblazing iconoclast he was and is. Photos. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The New Yorker

At the age of ninety, Franklin recounts the story of his rise from a childhood in Oklahoma to a career as a pioneering African-American historian, whose work on the history of segregation formed part of the N.A.A.C.P.'s brief in Brown v. Board of Education. The journey is shadowed at every stage by episodes of casual bigotry and worse. He was threatened by a would-be lynch mob while surveying the economic conditions of black cotton farmers in Depression-era Mississippi; as he corrected the galleys of his groundbreaking work "From Slavery to Freedom," in 1947, he learned that his older brother, shattered by the experience of racism in the segregated military, "had either fallen or jumped" from a hotel window; and, after he hosted a dinner on the eve of receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, a white woman gave him a numbered ticket and asked him to retrieve her coat.
Copyright © 2006 The New Yorker
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (November 2, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374299447
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374299446
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.4 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,365,151 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
John Hope Franklin is one of the greatest historians that America has ever produced, and he is also one of the most valuable citizens we have ever produced. His memoir, though written in a calm, modest, and understated prose, is lucid and illuminating throughout, and readers seeking the emotional core of this great man and great scholar need only read to find it. Franklin's book is frank about his repeated experiences of racism in America, and about his justifiable anger at such experiences. It is also frank about his belief that his commitment to scholarly integrity is not only something he believes in as a committed scholar, but also something that he wants to use to prove the dignity and worth of all African Americans. This book also shows his deep love for his family, in particular for his wife and his son. And it is an all but unparalleled illumination of the scholarly and professional life of one of America's greatest historians. For anyone who is interested in becoming a historian, for anyone who wants an enlightening view of the effects of America's racial ordeal in the twentieth century, for anyone who has read any of the works of John Hope Franklin and wants to understand the author, for anyone who cares about this country, MIRROR TO AMERICANS is indispensable reading.
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Format: Hardcover
Back in the 1970's, when I worked as an education assistant at a small historical library in Ohio, John Hope Franklin spent several days in residence doing research. Having a man of such stature in our midst was a rare occurrence, and the head librarian had instructed us to walk on eggs so as not to disturb him; to her chagrin, I was scheduled to lead a group of eighth graders on a tour during his stay. Before my charges entered the building I explained who Dr. Franklin was and why it was very important that we not disrupt his work. As we tiptoed silently through the reading room hoping to go unnoticed, Dr. Franklin looked up, smiled and asked me to bring them over. He inquired about their school, their studies, their interests in history, etc. before discussing his current research project with them. Their teacher told me they were still talking about him months later.

Each page of this astounding memoir reminded of that compassion, that ability to connect with people at all ages and levels of experience and sophistication. John Hope Franklin is more than a world-class scholar. Personally and professionally, he is the bridge connecting America to its African American history. At times I felt like I was rereading FROM SLAVERY TO FREEDOM, augmented by personal asides and inside stories.

Reviewers detail Franklin's numerous high profile accomplishments, but for me, smaller, more personal moments in the book stand out. For example, I gave little thought to the obstacles he would have encountered while trying to access archives in the Jim Crow South, despite his impeccable Harvard credentials. Even when librarians were supportive, they had to work around the absurdities of segregation, sometimes with ironic results.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Dr. John Hope Franklin's autobiography, Mirror to America, accomplishes several things:

1) It gives a detailed account of the author's life and vividly demonstrates the struggle African Americans faced regardless of their education, benevolence, and willingness to be a good citizen despite daily obstacles of prejudice.

2) It provides detailed insight into the inner workings of Black communities and their interactions with White communities over a period of 90 years.

3) It gives inspiration and pride to African Americans who sincerely yearn for an African-American male mentor to give guidance. The scarcity of African-American male mentors lends more hardship to being a Black male. It is sometimes quite burdensome for Black males who strive to overcome constant obstacles as they push forward to make a place for themselves in the world.
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Format: Hardcover
John Hope Franklin's life is the story of an America where racial segregation was a fact of life and black people had little hope of receiving justice. It is also the story of an America which is being transformed through the civil rights movement and legislation.

The James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of History at Duke University amassed many honors since publishing the landmark From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African-Americans. First appearing in 1947, this volume is now a landmark text in African American Studies. Simmilarly, this biography richly deserves all of the praise which it recieves.

This book contains some personal information about his family, but Franklin obviously thought about what he wanted to write before beginning his project. This is not one of the books where a `famous' author was simply writing down words for the sake of publication. Franklin's genius comes viewing the historian as a resource and active participant in the civil rights struggle.

During the Clinton administration he was a member of the President's Advisory Board to the President's Initiative on Race, charged with Promoting national dialogue on race issues; Increasing the nation's understanding of the history and future of race relations; Identifying and creating plans to calm racial tension and promote increased opportunity for all Americans; and addressing crime and the administration of justice.

Franklin does not view that advisory board appointment as an academic exercise or historical stamp without enforcement teeth. Merging activism with professional research was a trend throughout his entire life. In addition to helping himself, Franklin believed his career and other choices would help his community, and his nation.

It is because Franklin and his colleagues within the civil rights movement and/or history associations did such a good job that my generation experienced a different south regardless of our own skin color.
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