cover image Mirror to America: The Autobiography of John Hope Franklin

Mirror to America: The Autobiography of John Hope Franklin

John Hope Franklin, . . Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25 (401pp) ISBN 978-0-374-29944-6

At 90, Franklin recalls his extraordinary life. Born in the Oklahoma territory in 1915 and descended from slaves, he studied at Harvard, taught at some of the nation's most prestigious universities, served on committees for FDR and Bill Clinton, published seminal histories of blacks in America and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work in civil rights. Franklin strove to evade the draft in WWII after being treated shamefully by the draft board when he tried to enlist, and did research for Thurgood Marshall in Brown v. Board of Education . Every aspect of Franklin's life has been influenced by the institutionalized racism he's experienced since he was six, when he was forced off a train for sitting in a car reserved for whites. Yet Franklin relates this all in dry, flat prose steeped in minutiae. The larger aspects of his life are glossed over; missing entirely is the emotional response to the ubiquitous racism. Nor does Franklin contextualize his experiences (e.g., in 1945, he refused to move to the back of the bus, but he fails to juxtapose this event with the Rosa Parks incident 10 years later). This disappointing autobiography fails to depict Franklin as the trailblazing iconoclast he was and is. Photos. (Nov.)