In Memoriam: Harold Alonza Franklin, 1932-2021

Harold Franklin, a long-time educator who in 1964 was the first Black student to enroll at Auburn University in Alabama, died on September 9 at his home in Sylacauga, Alabama. He was 88 years old.

A native of Talladega, Alabama, Franklin dropped out of high school to join the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War. He later earned a diploma and then graduated from what is now Alabama State University.

On January 4, 1964, Franklin enrolled at Auburn University as a graduate student in history. Franklin was admitted under heavy guard and was kept isolated from other students in campus housing. After completing his studies, he was not allowed to defend his master’s degree thesis and was not awarded his degree. This injustice was not corrected until 2020.

After leaving Auburn in 1965, Franklin earned a master’s degree in international studies from the University of Denver. He then embarked on a 27-year career as an educator teaching history at Alabama State University, North Carolina A&T State University, Tuskegee University, and Talladega College before retiring in 1992. After leaving academia, he served as a funeral director in Sylacauga, Alabama.

In 2001, Auburn honored Franklin as its first Black student by awarding him an honorary doctorate, In 2015, the university 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.”

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  1. Condolences to the Franklin family and friends. In my opinion, Auburn University can keep its “funky” degrees. Why would the racist Auburn University wait until Mr. Franklin was in the later part of his winter years?

    In my view, this is nothing more than an insult on numerous levels. I can only hypothesize that Auburn University pursued this course of action because it gives the impression of “diversity and inclusion” to ensure they keep their long line of top Black male male high school athletes from the state of Alabama and elsewhere come and play football and basketball. All the while who really benefits.

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