Starting Monday, people who pass through Durham on Interstate 85 will be driving on a highway named in honor of a man who wrote his seminal work on African-American history in the city and returned after a career of ground-breaking scholarship to write and eventually teach at Duke University.
The John Hope Franklin Highway will be dedicated at a ceremony at the Hayti Heritage Center at 1 p.m. Monday. Members of Franklin’s family will unveil a highway sign that will designate a section of I-85 between Cole Mill Road and U.S. 70 Bypass.
Among those expected to speak at the ceremony are Gov. Roy Cooper and Everett Ward, the president of St. Augustine’s University in Raleigh, where Franklin taught for a few years starting in 1939.
Franklin was 94 when he died of congestive heart failure at Duke University Medical Center in 2009. His death ended a career that began with a bachelor’s in history from Fisk University and graduate degrees from Harvard and blossomed with the publication in 1947 of “From Slavery to Freedom,” which quickly became the preeminent history of African-Americans.
The year it was published, Franklin left the faculty at N.C. Central University to teach at Howard University in Washington, D.C., where he helped lawyers for the NAACP team led by Thurgood Marshall develop the case that would lead to the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision that declared laws creating segregated schools unconstitutional.
Franklin’s appointment to lead the history department at Brooklyn College in 1956 was the first for a black professor at the school and made the front page of The New York Times. After a year teaching at Cambridge University in England, he was invited to join the faculty of the University of Chicago in 1964. A year later, he joined historians who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. from Selma, Ala., to Montgomery.
Franklin, a native of Oklahoma, and his wife, Aurelia, retired to Durham in 1980. Two years later, he became the James B. Duke Professor of History, Duke University’s highest professorship. In 1995, he was awarded the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The process for naming the highway for Franklin began with a proclamation from U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx in the waning days of the Obama administration. Foxx, a former mayor of Charlotte, called on the N.C. Department of Transportation to name an unspecified section of I-85 for Franklin and a section of interstate in Mecklenburg County for civil rights attorney and former NCCU chancellor Julius Chambers.
State Board of Transportation member Valerie Jordan will preside over Monday’s ceremony, which will include U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, state Sen. Floyd McKissick, Durham Mayor Bill Bell and Durham County Manager Wendell Davis.