Auburn University Honors Two of Its African American Trailblazers

Josetta Brittain Matthews

Six months after Governor George Wallace made his “stand in the schoolhouse door” in a futile attempt to stop the racial integration of the University of Alabama, a similar drama took place when Harold A. Franklin sought to become the first Black student at state-operated Auburn University. Franklin was ordered to be admitted by a federal court, but Governor Wallace and other state officials tried to intervene. But Auburn University president Ralph Brown Draughon was instrumental in allowing Franklin’s admission in a peaceful and orderly fashion.

But Franklin never received a degree from Auburn. Instead he studied at the University of Denver and later held faculty or administrative positions at Alabama State University, North Carolina A&T University, Tuskegee University, and Talladega College.

Bessie Mae Holloway

The first Black graduate of Auburn University was Josetta Brittain Matthews who earned a master’s degree in education in 1966. She was also the first Black faculty member at the university, joining the College of Liberal Arts as a French and history instructor in the 1970s. Dr. Matthews earned a doctorate in education at Auburn in 1975. Recently the board of trustees named a residence hall on honor of Dr. Matthews. A scholarship at the university is also named in her honor.

Another residence hall was named to honor Bessie Mae Holloway, the first African American and second woman to serve on the university’s board of trustees. Dr. Holloway spent more than 25 years as a teacher and instructional specialist in the Mobile County Public School System. She sat on the Auburn University board of trustees from 1985 to 2000. Dr. Holloway died in 2019.

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  1. I was also an instructor at Auburn during the early 70s and was part of what I now realize was an effort to diversify the faculty. There were Blacks in the English and Education departments as well as my department (sociology). There were also numerous Black graduate students from surrounding HBCUs who took courses at Auburn during this period. I’ve often wondered what happened to many of them. There were enough of us who regularly interacted socially to make the years a spent there ones I recall with fondness.

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