First Black Student at Auburn University Dies at 88 

In Summary

Harold Franklin integrated into Auburn University in 1964, but wasn’t presented with his graduate degree until Feb. 19, 2020. 

Dr. Harold A. Franklin, the first Black student to integrate into Auburn University, died on Thursday.  

Franklin, who died in his home of Sylacauga, Alabama, was 88.  

Auburn University initially denied Franklin’s enrollment in 1963, leading civil rights attorney Fred Gray to file a class-action lawsuit in August of 1963. The case argued Franklin and other Black Alabamians had met the requirements for admission and the rejection violated their 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.   

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Franklin was admitted as a graduate student to Auburn, but he needed a security escort and was kept isolated from other students in campus housing. Due to the discrimination and prejudice during those times, Franklin did not complete his degree at Auburn. He went on to earn a Master’s Degree in history at the University of Denver.  

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For 27 years, Franklin taught history at North Carolina A&T State University, Alabama State University, Tuskegee University and Talladega College.  

On Feb. 19, 2020, Auburn presented Franklin with his graduate degree.  

“Dr. Franklin was a pioneer who paved the way for other African American students to attend Auburn University,” said Auburn University President Jay Gogue. “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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