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Amid far too many deadlines, trips, and obligations, I almost Zoomed into the marvelous kick-off event that the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute is holding today in honor of myself and Karla Holloway as its cofounders 25 years ago. And then it was almost as if I could hear beloved mentor, friend, and role model for us all, Dr. John Hope Franklin, saying in that powerful and yet loving and always warm and witty voice of his, “Don’t be foolish, Cathy! They usually gather to honor us like this at our wake.”

Here I am at the founding of the Franklin Institute with co-founder Karla Holloway and Dr. John Hope Franklin, after whom the institute is name!

He was in his 90s when Karla and I–Dean of the Humanities and Social Sciences and Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies–worked together to be able to create the John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary and International Studies and its cornerstone John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute. It could not have happened without President Nannerl Keohane and Provost Peter Lange’s support. Like us, like everyone at Duke and in Durham–and, well, worldwide–they loved John Hope. Here are some highlights:

–Walking through the construction site together with our hardhats, holding our breath as John Hope, then in his 90s, insisted on walking across a catwalk one story in the air to get to the wing that would eventually host the Franklin Institute. And when we arrived at the new big seminar room (an architectural feat and challenge given the design of the 1940s building), we all wrote our names inside the walls, with a message to be found by some future generation . . .

–The party we had for all the workers on the building where scholars of Spain and Latin America who worked in the building humbly and generously and lovingly served as translators for many of the building’s workers, mostly sheet rockers, who spoke no English. Dr Franklin shook everyone’s hand and had words for everyone. Some workers were there with families and, of course, he hugged every child. Pres Keohane came too, to thank them and shook every hand and hugged the children. The distinguished scholar Walter Mignolo, one of the translators, said the head of the workers’ union said many of them had been working as manual laborers for decades . . .and this was the first time any one of them had ever been inside one of the buildings they had constructed after it was opened. They were astonished that the great man whose name was on the building, the President, and famous professors were there to thank them at a party thrown only to thank them.

–At the big open reception for the community, pretty much everyone was there. Everyone. An amazing time. Presidents from other universities in the area, famous basketball coaches, the basketball players too, and so many students, former students, alums, townspeople. Everyone. What a day!

Thank you, John Hope, for coming to me in dreams and visions and telling me I would be a fool to miss today. I’ve already seen so many people I haven’t seen since I left Duke in 2014. A great day. A great day.

And here I am today, with Karla Holloway and Bouna Ndiaye at the Franklin Humanities Institute!

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Cathy N. Davidson

Cathy N. Davidson

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