My John Hope Franklin memory: He brought an amazing experience, even in his absence
News that legendary black history pioneer John Hope Franklin died Wednesday left a rueful sadness.
I was lucky enough to have met him once years ago, at an intimate lunch arranged by a college professor pal, during one of the legendary historian's frequent stops in St. Petersburg.
But my most affecting moment connected to Franklin had more to do with his absence -- when circumstance forced him to drop out of a panel discussion I had arranged at the University of Tampa back in 2005, built around a screening of the PBS documentary Slavery and the Making of America.
Just the mention of Franklin's name as an invited guest drew nearly 200 people eager to see this accomplished man who seemed as much a part of history as an observer of it.
As it turns out, we all were glad when Franklin didn't make the event -- protesters upset over the cause of a local community activist who had recently lost a radio show on WMNF wound up trying to dominate the evening in an ugly way.
But a curious thing happened. After that panel (pictured left), which did feature well-known slavery and civil rights scholars such as Ray Arsenault and Charles Joyner, I wrote this column about the mistaken power that comes from shouting at people instead of talking to them.
Not long after that, I reached out to one of the protest's most powerful speakers, the poet l.i.f.e., and wound up helping him get on a local TV talk show and collaborating with him on poetry slams sponsored by the group I lead, the Tampa Bay Association of Black Journalists.
I never would have predicted, watching l.i.f.e. back at that rally in 2005, his dreadlocks flying as he accused me of perpetuating a Jim Crow attitude, that we would ever work together on anything. But we found a space of mutual respect and have offered some pretty cool stuff to the community as a result.
When I heard about Franklin's death, I thought of those moments -- and the gift he gave us without knowing, just by lending his good intentions.
That, I thought, must be the measure of a truly great man; when even the possibility that you might appear makes something wonderful happen.
I hope, wherever he is now, that he knows what an amazing experience he gave us all.