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Persistent Scholar Harold Franklin

Courtesy of Auburn University Photographic Services

In the 1960s and ’70s, Harold Franklin (MA ’76) struggled to find his place in the world of academia. All that changed when the University of Denver came calling as part of what was then a new initiative to recruit promising African American students for its Graduate School of International Studies (now Korbel).

After earning an undergraduate degree in psychology and government from Alabama State College in 1962, Franklin sued Auburn University twice: first for the right to enroll in graduate studies as the school’s first black student, and then to be allowed to live on campus. Franklin won his legal battles, and on Jan. 4, 1964, he was escorted onto campus. A hundred federal marshals were on hand, as ordered by Gov. George Wallace. 

But victory for Franklin was short-lived. Despite completing the requirements for a master’s degree, his thesis was repeatedly rejected, as late as 1969. He eventually gave up, convinced that racism was at play. He took a break from his own education and was teaching courses at various Alabama colleges when DU came calling.

“Somehow, the University of Denver found me,” says Franklin, who was unaware of DU’s program with a few Historically Black Colleges and Universities. “I received an advertisement in the mail for the Graduate School of International Studies. I talked to my wife about it and decided to apply. They were nice enough to accept me and to offer me a full scholarship.”

Franklin loved the two years he spent at DU. He met Condoleezza Rice, whom he remembers as “brilliant academically.” He also got to know Rice’s father, John, who, as a faculty member and an associate vice president, was the one who initiated the HBCU program. “Both of our families were from Alabama, so John and I became friends. I would go to their house and talk about politics and all sorts of things.” 

On campus, Franklin took classes such as Comparative Area Problems: Africa South of the Sahara and Black Experience in America. After earning his MA in international studies, he taught related subjects at Talladega College in Alabama and became an administrator. In May, Franklin finally received his degree from Auburn—defending his thesis before a full committee 51 years after he wrote it. He made national news as a result.

Today, Franklin, 86,  is retired from teaching. He works part time at a funeral home in Talladega and is occasionally called upon to give advice to young Black students. “I tell them everything isn’t perfect, and that they won’t agree with some of their classmates, or educators, or administrators. I tell them to develop good habits, and always do their best.

“And I quote my high school principal, who was a former football coach. He always said, ‘Honey, honey. Give out, but don’t give up.’”

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