The first black student in Auburn University history will finally receive his long-awaited master’s degree from school in May.
On January 4, 1964, Harold Franklin entered the Auburn University campus as the first black student in school history, pursuing a master’s degree he had never received after his dissertation was repeatedly rejected, until 1969.
On Sunday afternoon, May 3, at the beginning of Auburn’s spring for the College for Liberal Arts, Franklin, now 86, will finally receive his master’s degree.
“I am honored,” Franklin said in an interview on Saturday. “I am happy that in the end they decided after all these years. I will be there at the degree and I will get that degree.”
Franklin successfully defended his master’s thesis on Wednesday 19 February, said Keith Hebert, associate professor of history at Auburn, chair of the thesis committee.
Hebert said the current university administration learned of Franklin’s dismissed master’s thesis after AL.com interviewed Franklin on August 30 about Governor Kay Ivey’s incident. Ivey and Franklin were Auburn students simultaneously.
Harold Alonza Franklin Sr. arrived as a graduate student in Auburn in 1964 after suing the university. Federal Judge Frank Johnson decreed in 1963 that Auburn was to allow him to enroll.
Franklin graduated from Alabama State College in 1962 and wanted to get a master’s degree in history from Auburn University. He worked by selling insurance while waiting for the judge’s sentence in his case. “I won two cases against them,” said Franklin. “I was a 31-year-old married shaker. George Wallace was governor. I don’t have to tell you what it was like. “
Wallace sent state troops to prevent Franklin’s enrollment, but was escorted to campus by an FBI agent. Franklin was assigned to a wing of the dormitory all by himself.
Franklin said he spent 12 months in Auburn working on a master’s degree in history and clashed with his professors on the topic of his thesis. “I wanted to write about the fight for civil rights,” said Franklin. “One of the professors told me it was too controversial.”
Instead, he wrote a thesis on Alabama State College, the historically black institution from which he graduated.
“I thought I did a good job on the thesis,” Franklin said on the phone on Saturday. “A professor told me that mine had to be perfect. I came back and made the changes they suggested. “
However, he was unable to obtain approval of his thesis. “They still complained about this or that,” said Franklin. “I had been in the thesis room and had read the white boys’ thesis. I couldn’t understand why mine was not acceptable and the others were acceptable.”
In 1969 it became clear that Auburn would not approve of his thesis. “In the end I said,” Hell, what you’re telling me is that I’m not going to graduate from Auburn, “said Franklin.
In 2001, Auburn awarded Franklin an honorary doctorate in literature.
“It was a really nice gesture,” said Hebert. “For Harold, the honorary degree was a pleasant one. It shows it. It’s on the wall. It’s Dr. Harold Franklin. But there was an incompleteness. He had earned all the credits, had done all the courses, had written the thesis. “
Hebert said that after reading the story of Franklin’s reflections on Ivey, in which he described Auburn’s treatment of him at the time, he took several faculties to visit Franklin at his Sylacauga home.
“We caught up with Harold and visited him in early November,” said Hebert. “We wanted to hear his story.”
So Hebert asked if Franklin still had his thesis. “He pulled it out,” said Hebert. “He clung to this. It still means something to him. “
Franklin said he always had it on hand.
“I keep a copy here,” said Franklin. “I keep it right here on the sofa next to me.”
Hebert scanned the thesis and distributed copies of it to the faculty.
“We tried to evaluate it from the time it was written, which was 1969, to read what was approved that year,” said Hebert. “He had written a master’s thesis. Over 50 years ago he had met all the requirements. We organized a defense. It is shameful that it took so long.”
Auburn identified his student records, which was not easy, Hebert said.
The formal apologies for the delay in obtaining the title were attached to the approval of the thesis.
It is not his first master’s degree. After leaving Auburn, Franklin went on to pursue a master’s degree in international studies from the University of Denver.
Born on November 2, 1932, Franklin grew up in Talladega and now lives in Sylacauga after retiring from his career as a history teacher. He taught at Tuskegee University from 1965 to 1968, and later at Talladega College, where he was assistant professor of history from 1968 until his retirement in 1992. Today he works part-time at Terry’s Metropolitan Mortuary in Talladega.
Franklin said he was grateful that his work was finally recognized despite the delay.
“I’m not angry about this,” said Franklin. “I never got angry about it. Life goes on. Nothing is perfect in this world.”