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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with John Hope Franklin, July 27, 1990. Interview A-0339. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Racially charged events at Fisk

Franklin describes some of his experiences as a senior at Fisk University, when he was the president of the student government. A black man was lynched for knocking down a white girl as he rode his bicycle, and Franklin D. Roosevelt arrived for a visit to hear the Fisk chorus sing. Franklin does not elaborate on the lynching story, but he describes one white man's horror that Fisk, a black university, did not provide separate seating for whites.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with John Hope Franklin, July 27, 1990. Interview A-0339. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN:
Oh, but I meant public affairs, concerts, lectures, everything—white people just came. And nobody felt anything about it. They just came and sat where they pleased. And you would be interested in this, John, in the fall of my senior year I was president of the Student Government. It was in either late October or early November that two things happened in Nashville that were really spectacular. One was that a young black was lynched, Cordie Cheek, who was lynched. He really was not a Fisk student.
JOHN EGERTON:
But he was right close to the campus.
JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN:
He lived in a house, I think it was owned by Fisk as a matter of fact, one of those rentals. But he was taken off campus, out of town and lynched. Apparently for running over a white girl on his bicycle. Hitting her. And the students were up in arms and everything. All hell broke loose. Awful. And the other thing was—these things come together—the announcement of Franklin D. Roosevelt that on his way to Warm Springs, Georgia, he was going to stop in Nashville. He wanted to do two things in Nashville. He wanted to visit the Hermitage, and he wanted to visit Fisk and hear the Fisk choir sing. I was right in the middle of all of it. One, because of this protesting in behalf of his boy, and the other because, as the chairman of the Student Government, I had a real responsibility in connection with the Secret Service and all the rest who were coming down. They came out and they had advance parties to see how everything was going. Instructed me what had to be done, and they were hoping I would interpret to the students. For example, no student could be upstairs in Jubilee Hall looking out the window because the President was going to come up around that oval there.
JOHN EGERTON:
And these two events happened contemporaneously?
JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN:
Well, within weeks of each other. The Cordie Cheek lynching may be coming—you can check it—in October. The president came in early November. So we had these two things going. The curious thing about it is the Nashville citizens could not imagine that the President of the United States would come to Nashville to see a bunch of "niggers," you know [laughter] . I remember even the radio that morning, describing his tour of the city, did not include Fisk in it, although he had announced that he was coming to Fisk, and the people knew he was coming. We had made arrangements, the choir would be on the steps of Jubilee Hall. I have pictures of that. And there would be bleachers all around where citizens could come and sit and see the president when he and Mrs. Roosevelt came up around there. And as big man on the campus, I'm right around everything. I remember a white man coming up to me and he said, "Where do the white people sit?" "Oh, you sit anywhere. We don't have any special place for you to sit." He said, "You mean to tell me, we don't have any place where white people can sit and not black people?" I said, "No, no, no, we don't have, there's no segregation at Fisk at all. Just make yourself at home." And he sounded, he was so upset, not angry with me, by the way, but upset. And he told me, as though I were his friend, he said, "You know, I have voted the Democratic ticket every time of every election since I was old enough to vote, but if the President of the United States comes here and speaks to a group of people and there's no special place for white people, I will never vote the Democratic ticket again." [Laughter]
JOHN EGERTON:
He just told you that?
JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN:
Yeah. Like he thought I would understand. Like nobody else, you know, it was almost like we were in this together [laughter] . He said, "I'll never vote for the Democrats again."
JOHN EGERTON:
That was in '34?
JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN:
November of '34.