In 1964, Harold A. Franklin became the first African American student at Auburn University.Franklin graduated from Alabama State University, then named Alabama State College, in 1962 with a degree in government and psychology. When he applied to Auburn, the University denied Franklin admittance in early 1963, leading civil rights attorney Fred Gray to file a class-action lawsuit in August of 1963 on behalf of Franklin and other black Alabamians, arguing Franklin had met the requirements for admission and the rejection violated his constitutional rights. “I wanted to go to law school because Thurgood Marshall, first African-American to sit on the United States Supreme Court, was my idol — one of my idols,” Franklin said at a desegregation anniversary ceremony at the university in 2015.
Federal District Court Judge Frank M. Johnson ruled in favor of Franklin on Nov. 5, 1963, deciding the denial by Auburn, as a state institution, amounted to discrimination against the plaintiff and other blacks because Alabama had allowed the accreditation for the black schools to lapse while maintaining accreditation for the white-only public universities.
Franklin was admitted as a graduate student to Auburn University under heavy guard and was kept isolated from other students in campus housing. Although obstacles of the era prevented Dr. Franklin from completing his degree at Auburn, he went on to earn a master’s degree in history at University of Denver.
Mr. Franklin taught and held administrative posts at Alabama State University, North Carolina A&T University, Tuskegee Institute and Talladega College from 1965 until retiring from education in 1992. In 2001, 37 years after leaving the university, Harold Franklin was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Arts from Auburn University. Auburn additionally opened the Harold A. Franklin Society, whose mission is “to serve underrepresented male students at Auburn University, working to foster their growth in academic, social and professional areas.”
Harold Franklin currently lives with his wife in Sylacauga, Alabama.