On the John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture

Guest post by Waldo E. Martin, co-editor (with Patricia A. Sullivan) of the John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture

Over two decades ago, when Pat Sullivan and I began talking with editor Lew Bateman about starting a new series at UNC Press that would publish transformative and engaging work in African American History and Culture, we were wary and cautious. We were of course deeply honored to be asked to  consider taking on such a huge and important task. In our “heart of hearts,” we admitted that we wanted to take on the series, but were we right for the job? Was this indeed a job that we should assume? Were we up to the task?  

Acutely aware of the range and depth of the amazing body of historical scholarship in the field, especially since the groundbreaking work of the 1960s and 1970s, we spent a great deal of time thinking about the prospects and possible perils of such an undertaking. Equally important, we consulted a wide range of scholars, mostly historians, for their assessments of the need for such a series. Those consultations greatly encouraged us.  Many agreed that such a series could realize the potential UNC Press had already demonstrated as a major publisher in the field of African American history (both Pat and I had published our first books with UNC). Similarly, those consultations confirmed our sense that the new series we envisioned would both tap into a rapidly expanding body of innovative historical scholarship and complement existing and comparable series in African American History.

We both looked up to John Hope Franklin as an iconic figure, a scholarly giant, a highly influential public intellectual: a world-famous American historian, one of the truly great American historians of the twentieth century. His original and insightful scholarship transformed national and global historical understanding.  Fortunately for us, the John Hope that we were coming to know as a friend was kind, generous, and fun to be around. When he encouraged us not only to undertake the series, but agreed to have the series named in his honor, the deal was sealed. We will never forget the celebratory dinner Lew Bateman hosted with John Hope, Barbara Savage, one of the first authors to publish in the series, and us at the legendary Magnolia Grill in Durham to mark the official launch of the John Hope Franklin Series.

Looking back, editing the series continues to be an incredible experience. The works in the series continue to be first-rate and influential. Working behind the scenes with such an extraordinary cast of authors to help them realize their scholarly-intellectual innovations has been tremendously inspiring and fulfilling. Approaching its 25th anniversary, the more than 60 books (and counting) that comprise the John Hope Franklin Series reflect the creativity, daring, and breadth of outstanding scholarship that has established African American history as one of the most vibrant and formative fields of historical study. Drawing on a range of disciplines, the books in the JHF Series have won distinction in related fields of literary, political, intellectual, labor, popular culture, and sports, as well as women, gender and LBGTQ studies.  As we look forward with hope for an even brighter future for the series, we look back with gratitude to everyone who has helped to make the series a success.

For us, the series continues to be a remarkable journey. We are privileged and honored to play a role in helping shepherd to publication this stellar collection of works, which has helped enhance historical understanding. Finally, for us personally, editing the series has been profoundly transformative: learning from new and original voices, our own scholarship has been immeasurably enriched.  As my Mother would put it, “it’s a blessing.”

Waldo E. Martin is the Alexander F. & May T. Morrison Professor of American History & Citizenship at the University of California, Berkeley