John Hope Franklin

by Ethel Mortenson Davis

John Hope Franklin
he and his mother
boarding a train
and getting on a white coach
by accident.

“They stopped the train
and threw us off.”

He was six years old,
crying and afraid,
but his mother told him
that he was as good
as anyone else
in the whole world,
and that he shouldn’t
waste his energy crying,
but instead use it
to prove his worth.

John Hope went on
to get a PhD from Harvard,
rewriting American-African history.

In 1934 he handed
Franklin Roosevelt a petition
against the Cordie Cheek lynching,
marched for civil rights
in Montgomery Alabama in 1965,
testified against Robert Bork’s
nomination to the Supreme Court in 1987,
and won the Medal of Freedom in 1995.

He recently said,
“when I reached 80 years old
I thought it would change,
but instead I’m insulted every day
of my life.”

Copyright © 2010, I Sleep Between the Moons of New Mexico

Notes: A “quiet lynching” is how Sheriff Claude Godwin described the hanging of Cord Cheek, a twenty-year-old African American. Cheek was accused of, but never indicted for, attacking an eleven-year-old white girl. When the Maury County,Tennessee grand jury refused to indict Cheek for the alleged attack, residents took matters in their own hands in 1933. Franklin’s testimony during the confirmation of conservative Robert Bork to the Supreme Court in 1987 helped lead to Bork’s failure to gain confirmation by the United States Senate.


Filed under Ethel Mortenson Davis, Poetry

14 responses to “John Hope Franklin

  1. Caddo Veil

    Thank you for this important post–frankly, I can’t wrap my head around prevailing racism. I understand that it stems from ignorance, but how long does it take to get a mustard seed’s worth of “smart”?

  2. Julie Catherine

    Ethel, your excellent post led me to do some research on John Hope Franklin – and I’m very glad that I did, as I learned something new today. Thank you so much for that; I am grateful to you.

    It reminds me of a quote I came across last night, that means a great deal to me. Sometimes it’s what we don’t say or do that defines our character.

    “What you allow, you encourage. ~Michael Josephson”

  3. These are good comments. Thank you. Ethel

  4. A sobering poem, Ethel. Thank you very much for this reminder that we still have a long way to go.

  5. As part of the Versatile Blogger Award, I have chosen you and your blog as one to be recognized as a blog that I find to be creative, reflecting the thoughts and feelings of the author in a way that touches the hearts and mind of others. There are so many to choose from – Thank you for sharing your world ….
    Please feel free to post the award on your site.

  6. I have learned more history and more geography since I came on to the internet than I ever learned in school.

    And I don’t really think that the history I was taught at school was the whole truth!!

    Thank you Ethel for further educating me


  7. Such an important still often neglected issue. Thank-you for this post.

  8. Yes, I know exactly how John Hope feels. I am insulted every day because of ongoing dental repairs to damage incurred in a failed murder attempt I survived. Why do people think anything that marks us outwardly as “different” means we deserve to be mistreated?

  9. I’m sorry to hear this has happened to you, granbee. I hope you can heal and have a good life. Love Ethel

  10. thomag1

    A very nice treatment of a historical moment, Ethel. I hope you do more. I refreshed my memory of Mr. Franklin and some other important incidents back in that era…..thanks

  11. Appalling – it’s rife and comes in many forms

  12. It is astounding that racism not only still exists but has so much power in so many places.

    Excellent poem to educate and motivate, Ethel.

  13. Thank you, Ethel. Let us all stand up and speak until ignorance withers away (although may take some time yet, I fear).

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