home ||| current issue ||| past stories
about The Prism ||| volunteers ||| other sites

John Hope Franklin Speaks

by Jeremy Raw


The following article first appeared in Durham's Trumpet of Conscience, a periodical dedicated to perpetuating the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by ending racism and championing the cause of working people.

The Trumpet of Conscience recently spoke with Dr. John Hope Franklin, who was just appointed the chair of President Clinton's Advisory Board for the Initiative on Race.

Dr. Franklin explained the role of the Board and the impact he hopes it will have on race relations and public policy. He said their role is to "advise the President. We are to provide him with suggestions, things we think he should do, give him information which we think will help him shape his policies... For a year we will be doing research, trying to get the pulse of the country, receiving suggestions, trying to stimulate a widespread national discussion on this topic." The Board will have an office in Washington D.C., and a full staff including a Director, two Deputy Directors and up to 20 staff people. Members of the Commission have been asked by Dr. Franklin to bring ideas for programs and projects to the next meeting in mid-July.

Many studies have been made of the problem of race, but Dr. Franklin felt the Commission will be a new undertaking. "This is quite different conceptually. We believe that every community ought to be involved in looking at race and ethnicity in [the] community, and coming up with solutions and suggestions that will be significant for that community. Maybe one set of suggestions will not be satisfactory for every section of the country. Some sections have problems with employment or education, others sections have a problem with administration of justice."

To address those issues, Dr. Franklin called for an "open, full, frank, and honest consideration of these matters. If we can get the whole country talking about these issues, that is a part of the process not only of healing, but of achieving some notion of fairness. It's not easy. We've been faced with this problem in one way or another for over 300 years. We've still got a plate full of contradictions."

Regarding his personal goals for the Board, Dr. Franklin added that "I would like to see the whole country get talking. I think that honest talk, sincere talk, contains a healing process in itself, that might somehow reduce the bitterness, the tensions."

He added that the national conversation still needs to include a focus on specific problems around education, jobs and employment, the administration of justice, housing and health care. "I said in a commencement address a few weeks ago that there's something wrong with an economy that regards the reduction of unemployment as bad, that you've got to have 5 or 6 percent of people out of work in order for the economy not to expand too much, so there won't be pressure on management to raise wages. People out of work constitute a threat to those who are working. We've got to work out a way where people will be unafraid to step out and make demands for high wages, that people will regard prosperity as something all of us can share. I can't see the need for a healthy economy based on some people's misery." He added as well, though, that economic justice must be something we have regardless of how prosperous the economy is. "If we have to have complete prosperity in order to have economic justice, then that's a delicate and difficult terrain on which to build a society. I believe in full prosperity, don't get me wrong, but is that the only way we can have racial justice? I would say not."

Speaking of Durham, Dr. Franklin observed that "If every community could rise to the level where we are here, I think the situation nationally would be much better. I don't think we are ourselves out of the bottle, we've got a way to go. But I think we are on our way."

We asked Dr. Franklin how the Trumpet and its readers could help in this process, and he told us "The Trumpet is kind of a model; it has been at this already for a good while. It has raised many of the questions which we are now trying to ask nationally. As a matter of fact, I should have asked first, what can the Trumpet tell us to do?"

As part of supporting Dr. Franklin and his role on the President's Advisory Board, the Trumpet encourages readers to write us and let us know what you think the national discussion of race and ethnicity should include. We'll print as many of these responses as we can in our upcoming issues.

  Jeremy Raw is co-editor of The Trumpet of Conscience. Contact the Trumpet at P.O. Box 3354, Durham, NC 27702.  

home ||| current issue ||| past stories
about The Prism ||| volunteers ||| other sites

Send comments to prism@sunsite.unc.edu.