Franklin speaks on 21st century

In the past 50 years, John Hope Franklin, James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of History, has established himself as one of the nation's most esteemed historians by virtue of his study of blacks and the 19th-century South.

On Monday night, before an audience of more than 100 in the North Gallery of the Duke University Museum of Art, Franklin looked toward the future in a speech titled "Americans Preparing for the 21st Century." During the course of the talk, he discussed historical trends and their relevance to 21st-century America.

In the speech, co-sponsored by FOCUS and the Faculty Associates Program, Franklin addressed the issue of what it means to be an American in the 21st century. Franklin pointed to increased diversity as a defining characteristic of America in the next century, indicating that with this diversity will come a significant "demographics revolution" which will reform the concepts of "American" and "minority."

"There is an old belief that the term 'American' would refer to only those people of European and Scandinavian descent," Franklin said. "The new America in the 21st century will be primarily non-white, a place that George Washington would not recognize. By the year 2025, 'minority' will mean someone of European descent."

Franklin also spoke about the times in American history when those in power, primarily White Anglo-Saxon Protestants, held a myopic definition of what it meant to be a true "American." For the well-being of today and the next century, Franklin said that Americans need to foster a sense of tolerance and understanding. He also said that Americans should shed-yet not forget-the long-standing tradition of prejudice against minorities.

"The absence of religious toleration early on precipitated the bigotry that still exists in this country today," Franklin said, citing the historical practices of discrimination against Catholics, Jews and Mormons.

Franklin also discussed the xenophobia of White Anglo-Saxon Protestants who "wanted to create an Eden in their own image," and the historical bigotry against blacks in this country.

In 21st-century America, Franklin said that Americans must establish a constructive cooperation among themselves, citing increased political activity and voting as primary goals for the next century.

Franklin continued on the theme of unity, saying that Americans need to forge a meaningful trust with each other. It is this lack of trust, Franklin noted, that enables legislation like the concealed-weapons law to exist.

"In the present, we do not trust those who are designated to protect us," Franklin said. "If this trend continues, vigilantes instead of the police will enforce the law and undermine official law enforcement."

Franklin said that by working together in such an environment of tolerance and compassion, America will improve its condition significantly in the 21st century.

"We all have common experiences and concepts upon which to build constructively, like succor, sharing, pain, suffering and tolerance," Franklin said. "Such an effort will result in a new person for a new century that will be better for all of us."

After his speech, Franklin fielded questions from audience members, after which time he received a standing ovation.

Franklin drew praise from many of those who attended the speech, including Andrew Schneider, a third-year graduate student in history.

"The 21st century is a big mission and a topic that has been addressed a lot lately," Schneider said. "Professor Franklin articulated it better than I have heard it, but it is hard to expect anything less from someone of his stature."


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