Auburn University to Present Honorary Degree to First Black Student
AUBURN, Ala.Harold A. Franklin, who in 1964 became the first African American student to enroll at Auburn University, returned to the campus earlier this month to receive an honorary Doctor of Arts degree from the university during the spring commencement exercises.The honorary degree completed a 37-year journey for the now-retired educator, whose admission to graduate study at Auburn marked the end of racial segregation of the university. He was selected for the honor by the AU Board of Trustees at the request of the university’s faculty senate, the Auburn Black Student Caucus, the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the AU president’s office and others.“There is a wide consensus among Auburn constituencies that Mr. Franklin was a very influential person in Auburn’s history, and many people want to recognize him for his courage and the example he set in bringing about the peaceful integration of this university,” says interim AU President William Walker. “Thousands of African Americans have earned degrees from Auburn since Harold Franklin entered, and all our students have benefited from the changes that he made possible.”AU Trustee Byron Franklin is not related to the honorary degree recipient but considers Harold Franklin a personal and university hero.“He made it possible for people of color to be part of the Auburn experience and in doing so, he made Auburn a better place for all,” says Byron Franklin.“The honorary degree is a way that Auburn can express its appreciation to Harold Franklin for creating opportunities for people of color and for making a special contribution to Auburn’s history,” says the AU trustee, an African American who graduated from Auburn two decades after Harold Franklin broke the university’s color barrier. “I have been pleased to see many people come together to bring this recognition to such an important person in the history of Auburn University.”Although the Alabama State University graduate’s admission to Auburn under court order was accomplished peacefully, without the rancor that greeted integration of other major Southern institutions in the early 1960s, Harold Franklin was admitted under heavy guard and was kept isolated from other students in campus housing. He sought a master’s degree in history and political science, but eventually left without graduating. He later earned a master’s degree in history from the University of Denver. Franklin has taught and held administrative posts at Alabama State, North Carolina A&T State University, Tuskegee University and Talladega College before retiring from education in 1992.
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