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“The Train From Hate” by John Hope Franklin

When authors choose to embed pieces of their lives into literature, they aim to create a sense of connection with their readers. The purpose of biographical writing is to give the audience a first-hand account of the life of a person about which they are reading. The process of writing an autobiography, therefore, would involve a significant degree of soul-searching and reflection on the part of the writer.

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In The Train from Hate, John Hope Franklin employs the biographical tool to tell the story of his family life. Being African-American, his family was subjected to a large degree of social stigma and the ideas of superiority of Whites over Blacks. Despite all of the challenges that the family of Franklins had to endure, they learned to respect and support each other. However, the embarrassment that racial segregation created among many African-American families is something that was very hard to overcome, and the Franklins never fully recovered from it.

Central Theme

The story is told from the perspective of the author, John, who was only seven years old when his father, Buck Colbert, had moved to Tulsa in order to earn some money and provide for his family. In the meantime, the boy, with his mother, Mollie Parker Franklin, and sister, remained in Rentiesville, Oklahoma. The reason for the family having to live in different towns was later explored by Charles Homer Haskins.

He indicated that that the racial riots that were prevalent in Tulsa at that time could cause some serious problems to the family, which is why John’s father decided not to move his entire family (Haskins 3). Therefore, from a very young age, John Franklin had to get accustomed to racial injustice and bigotry and acknowledge that his life would highly likely involve having to withstand against the injustice.

In American literature, the topic of discrimination is not new or surprising. In order to capture the attention of his readers, Franklin provides an open discussion of his childhood, and these experiences are written in such a manner to ensure that readers would reflect on their own life. The personal account of learning to live with discrimination is what makes The Train from Hate unique, with its setting being different from the others.

Both the writer and his readers would have childhood moments that had influenced their views and moral perceptions. The significant moment that John had first experienced racial hatred, on the train, shaped Franklin’s perspective on the injustice in society. While his experience was not unique in any way, and many people would have the same account, the walk down the memory lane associated with defining the moments of childhood allowed Franklin to be honest with his readers.

Main Lesson and Mother’s Wisdom

An example of how the family was encountering racial bigotry throughout their daily routine was associated with them having to travel to get supplies, which implied walking six miles. During their travels, the family once boarded a white section of a train that was designated for whites (Franklin 222). Not long after, they were requested to move to the section that was designated for Blacks. When John’s mother requested to do so, they were immediately escorted off the train. After jumping off the train, the family started their way back to their town. Marked by the horrible experience of discrimination and injustice, 7-year old John began to cry.

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To calm down his son as well as to teach her kids a positive experience, the mother has the first lesson concerning racial relations: “she told me that the laws required racial separation, but they did not, could not, make us inferior in any way” (Franklin 223). After all, the experience of being subjected to racial stereotyping was positive for John as a young man. He still remembered what had happened as an adult, and it helped him through his future life and career.

As indicated by the narrator, John’s mother had to clarify the pressing issues that concerned their children because she wanted them to understand the way in which society worked. She said that by not detesting and arguing with those who oppress them, John and his sister could be superior individuals regardless of the fact that they are Black. John’s mother was adamant about teaching their children that no other person should have any sense of superiority over them because of skin color. She was an elementary school teacher who ensured that her children lived in a nurturing and positive environment.

Despite the fact that the quality of life in Rentiesville was “as low as one can imagine,” without electricity or running water, the family had to find something positive and valuable for them (Haskins 2). For instance, John could read a lot because of the free time he had, which furthered his curiosity about the world and opened new opportunities for inquiry and reflection. Combined with the experiences at childhood, his mother’s teaching pushed John to become a better person overall.

Having to live in an environment of oppression and bias, he was determined to advance as an individual. This reflected in the following quote from the book: “I would use my energies to make me a better persona and to distance myself from the perpetrator and purveyors of hate and misunderstanding” (Franklin 224). When learning about racial relations and the way they would influence his life, Franklin was happy that he was receiving his mother’s wisdom.

What Franklin’s family had to overcome was not unique to them as they were not the only ones to suffer from the indifference and maltreatment. However, John was determined to prove to the US society that a capable person of color could receive equal opportunities (Schweninger 2). This message is unique to the way in which Franklin structured his arguments in The Train from Hate. By reflecting on the negative experiences that adversely affected his loved ones and him personally, the author confirmed his intentions of becoming better as an individual. In many ways, such a way of reflection was intended to help the readers overcome their personal fears and doubts about being successful or seeking new life opportunities.

Since racial bias was a part of the experience of millions of people throughout the history of the United States, there would be no benefit in bitterness and hatred to be transferred from one generation to another. Importantly, the social unfairness that existed at the time when the story was told can still be traced in the modern world, which makes the story relevant even today. While people of color will not be taken off the train for sitting in an undesignated area, they may still experience barriers in accessing appropriate healthcare services or finding a job that would pay enough to sustain families and allow them to prosper.

Communicating with Readers

Symbolism is an integral part of Franklin’s narrative because it helps to explore the topic of racial injustice from a unique standpoint. “The train from hate” is a symbol indicating the key event occurring in the story. The train is given the feature of hate because of the discrimination that took place there. When John was young, trains were segregated into different sections designated for people of a different race, which meant that those who are inferior would experience hatred on the part of those deemed superior.

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“The train from hate,” is a symbol for the way in which society of that time was structured. Society was the train that took people into one direction; however, instead of giving every person equal opportunities and circumstances, the train imposes hate on some, elevating others based on their skin color. Thus, by using the symbol of the train, Franklin sheds light on the issue of discrimination and injustice by showing that even such simple things as boarding a train for a short journey can subject people of color to hatred.

The narrative of the story is supported by involving readers in considering the ways in which they would react if they were in the narrator’s shoes. The way in which the story is structured draws the perspective from every reader, and any person who had ever experienced discrimination could engage in discussion with the narrator. Franklin wanted his life to become an example for others and to show that even the darkest times and the most negative experiences could be used as tools for learning. The author had hope that someday, people of color would be treated the same way as others, and justice and equality would prevail.

In his interview for The New York Times, in which Franklin reflected on the history of the United States, continued to criticize the system. He said that “as long as we have more blacks in jail than in college, as long as we have more blacks unemployed than we have in college, as long as we have a system which will not provide adequate and decent affordable housing even for people who can afford it, we’re not very far” (qtd. in Applebome).

The uniqueness of Franklin’s perspective on his childhood experience is, therefore, reflected in his honest and objective look on reality. When John was taught that segregation was the feature of society, but no person was better than another because of his or her skin. Becoming an adult, he maintained the perspective that there are no people that could be better than others, nor that those who consider themselves better are bad people. The critique that the author had both in The Train from Hate and later in his career concerned the system of injustices within society.

Having understood the fact that society works in unique and discriminatory ways early on in his childhood, in the story, John does not have any ill will toward white people who acted as oppressors. Again, this is another unique point that describes his writing. While some may be critical of the way in which white people acted, Franklin acknowledges the primary role of the system in creating stereotypes, rather than people separately.

Such an attitude can also be attributed to the loving nature of his mother, who taught how to be a good person, treat others with respect, and advance in life through learning. The teachings of Franklin’s mother, Mollie Parker Franklin, represent the core of The Train from Hate. By reflecting upon her wisdom, the writer can communicate to his readers that the journey towards the world free of discrimination is achievable if all people invest in learning and becoming better as individuals.

Concluding Thoughts

The literary importance of The Train from Hate is attributed to its honesty and transparency in discussing the childhood experiences of the writer. The biographical component of the story gives it a unique flair that engages readers into the reflection about race relations and discrimination based on skin color. The arguments made in the story are effective because they are far from being preachy; instead, they have a unique sense of belief in a better future and the overcoming of racial boundaries. The mother of the main character is a symbol of wisdom, honesty, and compassion. She teaches her children that they should not feel inferior because of their race.

Her children were taught to develop as smart individuals with a healthy sense of self-confidence, and this message was used as a unique philosophy that supported Franklin throughout his life. Being a good person always pays off; however, as a society, it is crucial to challenge the system to reach the best outcomes for all people regardless of race.

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Applebome, Peter. “John Hope Franklin, Scholar and Witness.” The New York Times. 2009. Web.

Franklin, John Hope. The Train from Hate. Catholic Book Publishing Company. 1992.

Haskins, Charles Homer. “A Life of Learning. John Hope Franklin.” American Council of Learned Societies, no. 4, 1988, pp. 1-17.

Schweninger, Loren. “John Hope Franklin: A Legacy of Excellence.” Reviews in American History, vol. 38, no. 1, 2010, pp. 1-10.

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