(I post on this blog occasionally on matters that are not really about language, as in this case. If that’s not to your taste, pass on.)
The American historian John Hope Franklin, of Duke University, died on 25 March at the age of 94. There are obits and remembrances all over the place.
Some people are like the gingko tree: you think they’ve been around for an immense amount of time and will go on into the indefinite future. But of course they’re just people, not a species of tree, and their time comes to an end.
Franklin was a pioneer black presence in the elite American academy, perhaps best known for his book From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans, first published in 1944. He combined a courtly manner — he was a truly charming man — with a steely resolve.
I met him when he was on the board of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, an institution for which I have great affection. Its current director is Claude Steele, who is, in fact, African American (which is, these days, both utterly inconsequential and also still enormously significant).