Section of I-85 Named For Historian John Hope Franklin

Nov 28, 2017

John W. Franklin and his wife, Karen Franklin, unveil the John Hope Franklin Interstate-85 highway sign in honor of his late father.
Credit Leoneda Inge / WUNC

A section of Interstate-85 in Durham has been named for the late John Hope Franklin, a preeminent scholar of African-American history and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Anthony Foxx, former Secretary of Transportation under the Obama Administration, was in Durham for Monday's dedication honoring Franklin. The highway designation was one of Foxx’s last acts before leaving his post.

“There could be no better person to highlight and to hold up as an example, not just someone who was a great intellectual, a great leader, but someone who had something incredibly important to say to us about the future," said Foxx.

Foxx said the naming of the section of highway is even more important because so few highways and interstates are named for African Americans.

"[The highway] is one the most robust economic development tools we have in our country, it is also something that divided, and in some cases, eliminated neighborhoods," said Foxx. "As we look at the history of it, more than two-thirds of the communities that were decimated by the highways construction were poor and minority communities."

Governor Roy Cooper joined Foxx and several other dignitaries at the Hayti Heritage Center in Durham to officially dedicate the highway. Cooper said Franklin’s research defined the historical background of the Civil Rights Movement.

“Today we dedicate this highway to Dr. John Hope Franklin to honor the life he led and to remind ourselves and future generations of the value of our whole history," said Cooper. "The history of all of us.”

The approximately 5-mile section of I-85 named for Franklin is between Cole Mill Road and the U.S. 70 Bypass. Franklin’s son, John W. Franklin, attended the dedication and made this request.

“It seems to me when everyone gets to Durham on the way to Greensboro, they speed up when they get on," John W. Franklin said. "So please go slowly, go safely on this portion of highway 85 going through Durham County.”  

The elder Franklin traveled what would become I-85 for years, teaching African American History from St. Augustine’s University and North Carolina Central, to Bennett College and later Duke University.

Franklin was the author of several books, including "From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans," which has sold more than three million copies, in many languages. Franklin is a graduate of Fisk University and Harvard University, where he received his Ph.D. Franklin died in 2009 at the age of 94.