In 1962, John Hope Franklin became the first African American to be elected a member of the exclusive Cosmos Club.
The Cosmos Club is a private social club in Washington, D.C. that welcomes individuals from the arts, literature, and science. According to Cosmos Club rules, to be considered for membership, an individual must be regarded as “a person of distinction, character and sociability,” must have done meritorious work in the field of art, literature, or science, and have distinguished themselves in their profession, or through public service. Franklin received the Cosmos Club Award in 1994.
In 1995, on the evening before he was to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom at the White House, Franklin hosted a celebratory dinner party for some of his friends at the Cosmos Club. Some of his guests had not arrived, and Franklin decided to head to the entrance of the Club to look for them. There, an elderly white woman handed Franklin her coat check and demanded that he fetch her coat. Franklin politely informed her that all the Club’s attendants were uniformed and if she handed one of them her coat check, they would be happy to assist her. In a talk he gave ten years later, Franklin recounted this event as an example of how racist stereotypes and ideologies about the social position of Blacks remained strongly entrenched in American society.
This series is a part of Duke University’s John Hope Franklin@100: Scholar, Activist, Citizen year-long celebration of the life and legacy of Dr. John Hope Franklin
Submitted by Gloria Ayee, Franklin Research Center Intern