Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Education: Undergraduate

BOND: Well, then you go off to Atlanta to Morehouse College and what's that like -- this shift from this integrated high school in a segregated city, Chicago, but still a Northern city, to Atlanta, Georgia? What's that like for you?

FRANKLIN: It was really jarring to first encounter the South, you know, as a young adult. As children often, like many kids in Chicago, we'd spend a few weeks, you know, in the South visiting family on the farm. That was great fun to be able to go and actually see a farm and, you know, touch animals and so on. This is just a foreign world to us in the city. But here, encountering Atlanta and Georgia for the first time, hearing white people use language like, "colored people in our neighborhood" or "that work for us," it was just -- I didn't know quite how to respond to that. I just felt, this is going to be very, very different and very challenging. We -- but Morehouse was both wonderful and in some ways disappointing, I mean --

BOND: Talk about each one.

FRANKLIN: Yeah. It was wonderful to be in the presence of all these young men who I thought are also kind of leaders and preparing to serve the community and preparing to join the freedom struggle. And you know, just to sit in an auditorium where there're six hundred other articulate, smart young men was incredibly empowering. I just felt this sense of promise and potential. And to have faculty who really were quite extraordinary in both the sacrifices they made by remaining at Morehouse, teaching us when they, at that point, began to have other options in white universities. But they were there for us and modeling for us.

On the other hand, Morehouse, I found, was less committed to the cutting edge of the freedom struggle than I had expected it to be. I found that many of the teachers were also seeking to sort of socialize and assimilate us. It was a very -- kind of what one might call bourgeois ethic that was being instilled and, I don't know, in some ways often felt kind of irrelevant to all this activity going on around us. I mean, every month we would lose guys from our class who were being drafted, and they were off to Vietnam. And so you had the war and you had the aftermath of Dr. King's assassination and we just felt we ought to be doing more. We ought to be out there helping to organize communities, etc. And -- I don't know, in some ways the college felt like it wasn't pushing, it wasn't pushing us. We were having to lead the school.

BOND: Now are you still having internal debates about what you want to do, what your career path is going to [be], how that's going to work out?

FRANKLIN: In some measure, although at that point I was fairly clear that I wanted to dabble in politics, and to move toward at least being eligible for elective office. And here again, there were young, attractive leaders who were role models for me. There was Julian Bond and there were many others who I thought, "Gee, I like what they're doing," and they were kind of working within the system, but trying to bring transformation. And I thought, "I think that's more my style," because there was always the Eldridge Cleaver, Huey Newton option.

BOND: Right.

FRANKLIN: And I'd often flirt with that. And it didn't kind of feel right in my bones. And so -- so yes, it was a drift toward kind of politics, running for office, that kind of thing. So at Morehouse I did run for -- my first office was being elected the student representative to the board of trustees and with an opportunity to sort of sit in the chambers of power of the --

BOND: Yes, that's got to be a little heady.

FRANKLIN: Certainly was. Very intimidating. It was very different from a student council, that kind of setting. I mean, these were prominent business people and the president of the college sitting there. And I, you know, learned a lot about restraint and how best to give -- each meeting I was asked to give a report. There were two students, upper-class and an underclass, so I was the underclass person and I would sort of give my sense of the major issues and the concerns that students had. And so again, it was just another refining forum for me.