PUBLISHED:December 02, 2011

Dudziak analyzes John Hope Franklin's work on race and militarization

Legal historian Mary L. Dudziak addressed the complex relationship between race and military culture in America, particularly in the South, when she delivered Duke University’s Robert R. Wilson Lecture on Nov. 28. Visiting Duke Law in the fall 2011 semester as the John Hope Franklin Professor of American Legal History, she drew on the late Duke historian’s work for her talk, titled “The ‘Martial Spirit’ in American History: John Hope Franklin on Militarization and War.”

Some of Franklin’s most important reflections on the issue include his thoughts on slavery as a cause of martial culture, included in such seminal works as From Slavery to Freedom and The Militant South, 1800-1861, and his recounting of the experiences he and his brother had as African American soldiers in World War II, said Dudziak, the Judge Edward J. and Ruey L. Guirado Professor of Law, History and Political Science at the University of Southern California.

Her own research focuses on international approaches to legal history and the impact of war on American democracy. She recited some of Franklin’s observations on the origins of Southern culture: “'A Southerner seeking military activity in the early 19th century,' Franklin wrote, 'did not have to wait for war with Britain, Mexico or the north. He could find it in the continuing campaign against the subversion of slavery. ... The citadels, sentries, grapeshot cannons, and alert minutemen became familiar and integral parts of the Southern scene and were regarded by many as indispensable for the preservation of the cornerstone of Southern civilization.'”

Before the Civil War, the role of slave owners as “domestic dictators” was further militarized by the organization of patrols meant to apprehend escaped slaves and put down slave rebellions, Dudziak said.

Many of Franklin’s most profound thoughts on militarization and race in America can be found in his autobiography, where he recalled having his offer to serve as a Navy clerk refused in spite of his Harvard PhD and his award-winning typing skills, and other humiliations towards blacks, who were put in service branches of the military as a matter of policy, she said. “It is only in his more personal account that we can see his anger”
Concluding that the United States “only had an interest in protecting Europeans,” Franklin found his mistreatment — and that of his brother in the military particularly frustrating in a societal context; unlike the experience of citizens of other races in other wars, he saw that African Americans did not achieve fuller participation in American society from their wartime sacrifices, Dudziak said.

Dudziak is the author of War Time: An Idea, Its History, Its Consequences, forthcoming in January 2012 from Oxford University Press; Exporting American Dreams: Thurgood Marshall's African Journey (Oxford University Press, 2008)(paperback Princeton University Press 2011); and Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy (Princeton University Press, 2000, 2nd ed. 2011).

The John Hope Franklin Chair was established in 2009 to honor Dr. Franklin and his tenure as a professor of legal history at Duke Law School from 1985 to 1992. Gifts from Duke Law alumnus William Louis Dreyfus ’57, The Duke Endowment, and several other donors helped to endow the chair. The Law School is awarding the chair on a visiting basis each year to a distinguished scholar until a permanent appointment is made. Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, the Victor S. Thomas Professor of History and of African and African American Studies and Chair of African and African American Studies at Harvard University, visited Duke Law as the inaugural holder of the Franklin Chair in the last academic year.

Perhaps best known for his leadership of President Bill Clinton’s 1997 task force on race, Franklin is credited with bringing the field of African American history into the mainstream. His book From Slavery to Freedom, first published in 1947, remains the definitive account of the black experience in America. Franklin began his career as an instructor at Fisk University in 1936; he went on to teach at Howard University, Brooklyn College, and the University of Chicago before joining the Duke University history department as the James B. Duke Professor of History in 1982. He passed away in 2009 at the age of 94.

Watch the lecture.