A portion of I-85 in North Carolina has been christened after Dr. John H. Franklin, a revered historian who was, according to fellow historian Nell Irvin Painter, “the first great American historian to reckon the price owed in violence, autocracy and militarism.” The “Dr. John H. Franklin Highway” is located in Durham, North Carolina.
Photo credit: Chris Hildreth/Duke Photography
Former U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced the highway before he left office with the Obama administration this past January. The naming is credited as an effort pushed forward by N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper, U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-1st District) and Durham Mayor Bill Bell.
In his 2009 obituary, The New York Times celebrated Franklin for the many “firsts” that he accomplished. He was he first Black president of the American Historical Association, the first Black person to present a paper at the then-segregated Southern Historical Association and first Black professor to serve as department chair in a majority-white institution.
A prolific scholar, Franklin also worked with Thurgood Marshall’s team of lawyers in their effort to end segregation in the groundbreaking 1954 case Brown v. Board of Education, which outlawed the doctrine of “separate but equal” in the U.S.’s public schools. For his efforts, Franklin received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from former President Bill Clinton in 1995.