The first Black student to attend Auburn University died Thursday.
The passing of Dr. Harold Alonza Franklin, 88, of Talladega, was announced by his family Thursday in an obituary with Terry’s Metropolitan Mortuary in Talladega, with services and arrangements yet to be announced.
Franklin applied to Auburn in 1963 with the hopes of earning his graduate degree, but his application was initially rejected on the claim that his undergraduate degree from Alabama State University was unaccredited. Franklin then successfully sued the school and was allowed to register in January 1964.
Auburn University erected a historic marker on the lawn beside the Ralph Brown Draughon Library in his honor in September 2015, and Franklin spoke at the dedication ceremony with words of encouragement for students who came after him.
“(I want the marker to show) that I tried to do something positive so that others could come, would feel free to come and would not have to go through the problems that I did to get here and do their best,” Franklin said at the marker dedication ceremony. “And that’s what I always told my students. And that’s all I care about.”
The marker details Franklin’s arrival on campus on Saturday, Jan. 4, 1964, where he was escorted by local ministers and an FBI agent and met by state troopers sent by Gov. George Wallace who attempted to impede his registration.
Franklin was not initially allowed to defend his master’s thesis and did not graduate from Auburn. Despite that, Franklin went on to have a successful career as an educator after he left Auburn in 1965.
Franklin earned his master’s degree in international studies from the University of Denver and taught history at Alabama State University, North Carolina A&T State University, Tuskegee Institute and Talladega College before he retired in 1992.
Decades later, Franklin was able to successfully defend his thesis at Auburn in February 2020 and participated in the fall 2020 commencement exercises in December of last year.
“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,” Franklin said after finally earning his degree from Auburn. “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.”
Franklin received an honorary doctorate of the arts from Auburn University in 2001, and his legacy was honored by the creation of The Harold A. Franklin Society by Auburn students in 2008 and the formation of a scholarship named after him by the Auburn Alumni Association’s Black Alumni Council.
Auburn University Trustee Elizabeth Huntley described Franklin as a “trailblazer,” and said she wouldn’t be where she was today without the courage he showed when he enrolled at Auburn University.
“Dr. Franklin broke the barrier so that generations of African American students, including my husband, daughter and me, could graduate from Auburn University,” Huntley said in a statement. “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.”
A plaza area was built earlier this year beside the historic marker erected in Franklin’s honor near the university library and will be unveiled in November, according to the university.
“Dr. Franklin was a pioneer who paved the way for other African American students to attend Auburn University,” Auburn University President Jay Gogue said in a statement. “Auburn is a better institution because of Dr. Franklin’s bravery 57 years ago. His spirit of internal fortitude will continue to inspire us.”