AUBURN, Ala. (WRBL) — Harold A. Franklin, Auburn University’s first African American student, passed away Thursday at his home in Sylacauga, Alabama. Franklin was 88.
Franklin integrated Auburn as the university’s first Black student on Jan. 4, 1964, enrolling as a graduate student. He left Auburn in 1965, but went on to earn a master’s degree in international studies from the University of Denver. Franklin continued on to a successful 27-year career as an educator, teaching history at Alabama State University, North Carolina A&T State University, Tuskegee Institute, and Talladega College before retiring in 1992.
Initially, Franklin was not allowed to defend his thesis at Auburn University. The university retroactively righted this in Feb. 2020 and Franklin participated in the fall 2020 commencement exercises on Dec. 12.
Franklin was “just about speechless” after walking across the stage at Jordan-Hare Stadium. “I realized it wasn’t going to be easy when I came here as the first African American to attend Auburn, but I didn’t think it would take this long. It feels pretty good,” said Franklin. “I’m glad I could do something to help other people, and my mom and dad always taught us that, when you do something in life, try to do something that will help others as well.”
In 2001, Auburn awarded Franklin an honorary Doctor of Arts, and in 2015 the university also 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.”
Auburn plans to unveil an additional plaza area created to accompany the marker at a special ceremony in Nov. 2021.
“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.”
Franklin’s impact has also been honored in a number of other ways by university groups. The Auburn Alumni Association’s Black Alumni Council recently named a scholarship after Franklin and in 2008 a group of Auburn students created The Harold A. Franklin Society.
After the commencement ceremony in December, Franklin had a piece of advice for Auburn students and graduates. “Do your best and be honest,” Franklin said. “Treat everybody with respect, and if they don’t treat you with respect, don’t associate with them. That’s what I’ve tried to do all my life.”
You can read more about Franklin’s life and legacy on the Auburn University’s Office of Communication’s Newsroom website.