First Black Student to Integrate Auburn University Earns His Master’s 51 Years Later
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An 87-year-old college graduate — Harold Franklin Sr. — has endured a long battle on his educational journey to earn his master’s degree and 51 years later he can finally say he’s obtained it.
On Jan. 4, 1964, the then-graduate student stepped onto Auburn University’s campus as the first Black student to integrate their campus in pursuit of his master’s degree, Face 2 Face Africa reports.
Upon his arrival, the university denied Franklin admission and a dorm room to which the Talladega native followed through with a lawsuit.
Back in 1963, Federal Judge Frank Johnson ruled that Auburn allow him to enroll. However, his master’s thesis was repeatedly rejected up until 1969, preventing him from earning his degree.
“I thought I did a good job on the thesis,” Franklin told AL.com. “One professor told me mine had to be perfect. I came back and made the adjustments they suggested.”
“They still complained about this or that. I had been to the thesis room and read the white kids’ thesis,” he added. “I couldn’t understand why mine wasn’t acceptable and the others were.”
According to Face 2 Face Africa, after realizing the university refused to give him his degree, Franklin attended the University of Denver where he earned a master’s degree in international studies.
In 2001, Auburn awarded Franklin an honorary doctor of arts degree, AL.com reports, but Franklin still said “there was an incompleteness” in his educational accomplishments.
Over half a decade later, the university finally invited him back to defend his original thesis.
“He had written a well-research master’s thesis,” said Keith Hebert, associate professor of history at Auburn. “He had, more than 50 years earlier, fulfilled all requirements. We organized a defense. It’s shameful that it had to take this long.”
Franklin was able to defend his master’s thesis successfully on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020, according to Hebert, the chair of the thesis committee, reports Face 2 Face Africa. He was also issued a formal apology for the delay in awarding the degree along with his approved thesis.
“I’m honoured,” said Franklin in an interview with AL.com. “I’m happy they finally decided after all these years. I’ll be there at graduation and get that degree.”
Franklin graduated from the College for Liberal Arts at Auburn in May of 2020, receiving his degree in the mail due to COVID-19.
He previously taught at Tuskegee University from 1965 to 1968, and later at Talladega College, where he was an assistant professor of history until he retired in 1992. Franklin now works part-time at Terry’s Metropolitan Mortuary in Talladega, AL.