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Harold Franklin, Auburn University’s first African American student, dies at age 88

Harold Franklin was the first Black student to attend Auburn University.
Harold Franklin was the first Black student to attend Auburn University.(Auburn University)
Published: Sep. 9, 2021 at 5:06 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 9, 2021 at 5:39 PM CDT
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AUBURN, Ala. (WBRC) - Harold A. Franklin, Auburn University’s first African American student, died Thursday at his home in Sylacauga, according to Auburn University officials. Franklin was 88.

Franklin integrated Auburn as the university’s first Black student on Jan. 4, 1964. He was a Graduate School enrollee. He went on to a successful 27-year career as an educator in higher education after leaving Auburn in 1965, earning a master’s degree in international studies from the University of Denver and teaching history at Alabama State University, North Carolina A&T State University, Tuskegee Institute and Talladega College before retiring in 1992.

Franklin initially was not allowed to defend his thesis at Auburn, a wrong that was righted last Feb. 19, and he participated in fall 2020 commencement exercises on Dec. 12.

Harold Franklin was the first Black student to attend Auburn University.
Harold Franklin was the first Black student to attend Auburn University.(Auburn University)

In 2001, Auburn honored Franklin as its first Black student by awarding him an honorary Doctor of Arts and in 2015 erected a historic marker in Franklin’s honor near the Ralph Brown Draughon Library, where he first registered for classes.

“Dr. Franklin was a pioneer who paved the way for other African American students to attend Auburn University,” Auburn University President Jay Gogue said. “Auburn is a better institution because of Dr. Franklin’s bravery 57 years ago. His spirit of internal fortitude will continue to inspire us.”

Earlier this year, a plaza area was created to accompany the marker adjacent to the library, and it will be unveiled at a special ceremony in November.

“Dr. Franklin was a trailblazer,” Auburn University Trustee Elizabeth Huntley said. “I would not be here today if it was not for his courage to enroll at Auburn and in the process desegregate the university. Dr. Franklin broke the barrier so that generations of African American students, including my husband, daughter and me, could graduate from Auburn University.

“It takes a tremendous amount of courage to do the right thing and create opportunity for others. I will always appreciate Dr. Franklin’s tenacity, perseverance and his Auburn spirit that was never afraid.”

City of Talladega officials released this statement:

On behalf of the City of Talladega, City Manager Seddrick Hill and Mayor Timothy Ragland extend their deepest condolences to the family of Dr. Harold A. Franklin, the first Black student to attend Auburn University. Dr. Franklin, a Talladega native, graduated from Alabama State University in 1962 and applied to graduate school at Auburn, where he was denied admission because of his race. Attorney Fred Gray filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of Franklin and other black Alabamians, arguing that Franklin had met the admission requirements and the rejection violated his constitutional rights. A U.S. district judge agreed. Franklin was admitted to Auburn University, where he was heavily guarded and isolated from other students in campus housing. While racism prevented him from completing his degree at Auburn, he went on to earn his master’s from the University of Denver. Dr. Franklin became a renowned college educator and administrator. He taught and held posts at Alabama State University, North Carolina A&T, Tuskegee Institute and Talladega College. In 2002, he was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Arts from Auburn University. Because of Dr. Franklin’s unwavering commitment to justice and academic excellence, a trail was blazed for future generations.

April 4, 2020, was proclaimed Harold Franklin Day in Talladega.

Sheldon Haygood talked to Franklin in 2020 about making history and teaching it.

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