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John Hope Franklin, with President Bill Clinton (Courtesy of New York Times)
“Study your past, because history has a way of repeating itself. When it does, you will be prepared for it.” –Dr. John Hope Franklin
By J. Kavin Ross, photojournalist and writer
History was made recently when Tulsa dignitaries, Tulsa Public School officials, and educators, were joined by students, along with their families to celebrate and to dedicate the John Hope Franklin Elementary School, located on 5402 North Martin Luther King Blvd., formerly known as ECDC Bunche.
The school was built in 1957 and was originally named Sam Houston Elementary.
“We’re so excited to start a new year at a new school, named after such a great man,” declared the school’s first principal Mrs. Kellye Blakeney.
Dr. John Hope Franklin was born in Rentiesville, Ok. His mother was Mollie Franklin, a school teacher, and father Buck Colbert, an attorney. At an early age, Franklin was able to read and write as he sat next to older children while his mom taught class in a one-room schoolhouse.
Principal Kelley Blakney welcomes parent Lana Gentry, and her daughter Naykhia, who will be among the school’s first fifth-grader, to the dedication and celebration of John Hope Franklin Elementary, named after world-renowned author and historian, and former Tulsan.
A young John Hope was just five years old when the Tulsa Massacre of 1921 occurred on the streets of the Greenwood. Earlier in the year his father Buck Colbert, (B.C.), had left Rentiesville to create a new home for his family in the magic city of Tulsa. However, the two-day melee caused a delay for Franklin’s big move away from the small black town.
John Hope recalled that it would be a number of years before the Franklins could settle in their new home upon the scorched lands of Greenwood. During those years of absence from his children, B.C. fought hard for the survivors of Oklahoma’s darkest day in history.
The city of Tulsa was attempting to take the property of the victims illegally and move the Negro settlement further to the north, and to the east of downtown.
Franklin successfully sued the city and its power structure in the Oklahoma State Supreme Court. The state’s highest court sided with Franklin against Tulsa’s illegal and unconstitutional ordinances against the African-American community. Franklin saved Greenwood.
A decade after the atrocities on Black Wall Street, John Hope graduated from Booker T. Washington High School ahead of his class. Washington originally resided in the Greenwood District. The Tulsa Campus Oklahoma State University now stands in the footprint of the storied intuition of learning.
Franklin sought to follow in the footsteps of his father in the field of law. However, once he got to Tennessee State University, he found a new interest in History, as well as the love of his life, Aurella Whittington. Together the college life grew into love, and soon marriage. From this union was their only child John Whittington Franklin.
After college life, Franklin immersed himself in the study of American History, and the plight of the African American Experience.
Among his first writings was his manuscript, “From Slavery to Freedom.” Today after numerous editions, and languages, Franklin’s textbook is currently in use on college campuses around the world.
Franklin worked tirelessly as a professor at numerous colleges. He accumulated over a hundred honorary degrees from various universities across the nation and abroad. On his last duties as an educator before retirement, Franklin held the title of Professor Emeritus at the Duke University. The North Carolina institution, also has on its campus, The John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary and International Studies in Durham.
During President Bill Clinton’s Administration, Franklin received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and was appointed by Clinton as the Chairman of the President’s Initiative on Race Relations in America. In the state of Oklahoma, Rentiesville and Tulsa’s Historic Greenwood District, streets are adorned with John Hope Franklin Boulevard.
In a $5 million memorial, erected in 2009, to honor the legacy of the victims and survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 also bears his name as the John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park. When Dr. Franklin’s name was submitted for nomination to TPS, the excitement was felt from not only Tulsans but from many his followers and readers outside the state of Oklahoma.
Among the other names that were submitted to TPS were President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. Naykhia Gentry along with her mother Lana Gentry was among many families who had assembled for the celebration and dedication of Franklin Elementary. Naykhia will be among the first fifth-graders at the new school. In time, the young school’s educators will expose their student body to the accomplishments and greatness of Dr. John Hope Franklin and they too, like Franklin, are products of Tulsa Public Schools.
J. Kevin Ross is a contributing writer for the Black Wall Street Times and the Founder and Editor of the Greenwood Tribune. James Kavin Ross is a connoisseur of all things Black Wall Street of America. Since his return from Houston, Texas, now over two decades, Ross hit the ground running in the quest of researching the hidden and untapped history of Tulsans of the Greenwood community. Inspired by the works of Dr. John Hope Franklin, a native Tulsan and world-renowned author and historian, Ross was lead on the path in search of the history of Black Wall Street of America. Researching the history and culture of his hometown is just one of his many passions.