Amherst College mourns the passing of Franklin Odo, the John Woodruff Simpson Lecturer and former John J. McCloy ’16 Visiting Professor of American Institutions and International Diplomacy in the Department of American Studies, on Sept. 28, 2022. 

Provost and Dean of the Faculty Catherine Epstein wrote the following in a Sept. 30 email to faculty and staff:

We have been fortunate to have Franklin as a member of our community since 2015. His colleagues praise his tremendous intellect and range of knowledge; his generosity of spirit and kindness; his modesty; and his mentorship of faculty and students. I understand that a private family memorial service is being planned.

A renowned scholar, activist for racial justice, steward of Asian American culture, and internationally recognized leader in the field of Asian American studies, Franklin focused his life’s work on the history and lived experiences of Asian Americans. He was educated at Princeton and Harvard and went on to serve in many important roles over the course of a long and distinguished career, including as founding director of the Ethnic Studies Program at the University of Hawai`i at Mānoa; president of the Association for Asian American Studies; senior advisor to the National Park Service’s National Historic Landmarks Program; chief of the Asian Division of the Library of Congress; and founding director of the Smithsonian Institution’s Asian Pacific American Center. Franklin was a prolific writer, authoring, among other works, books that included Voices from the Canefields: Folksongs from Japanese Immigrant Workers in Hawai`i, No Sword to Bury: Japanese Americans in Hawai`i during WWII, and A Pictorial History of the Japanese in Hawaii, 1885–1924 (with Kazuko Sinoto), and In Movement: A Pictorial History of Asian America. He also co-edited a groundbreaking anthology titled Roots: An Asian American Reader and served as a curator and was involved in numerous media projects.

At Amherst, Franklin taught courses on race and public history and memory, among other topics, inspiring our students inside and outside the classroom. He supervised multiple theses in Asian American studies, helped his students create a podcast on Asian Americans and affirmative action, and worked with the Mead Art Museum. Franklin provided students with unique experiences, including a field trip in 2017 over spring break to Washington for students in his course "Japanese Americans and WWII," accompanied by Professor Robert Hayashi. As part of the trip, Franklin arranged for a tour of a Smithsonian exhibition commemorating the seventy-fifth anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066 by Franklin Roosevelt, which authorized the forced removal and incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans. He had been the principal scholar-advisor to this project and co-led the tour along with Smithsonian curators.

More broadly, Franklin was a deeply admired advisor to the Asian Students Association and was very involved in the Five College Asian/Pacific/American Studies Program. He also has played a key role in current efforts to establish an Asian American Studies program at the college (the foundation of which is under way with a current “cluster hire” in three departments). His loss will be deeply felt.

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