Dr. James Alexander Franklin was a physician practicing in the segregated Deep South early in his career. He barely made enough to pay his rent. However, he never turned a patient away even if they could not afford to pay for his services. It didn’t take him long to become well-known for his dedication, hard work, generosity, and love for his patients.
Dr. James Alexander Franklin, Sr. was born on November 17, 1886, in Chattanooga, Tennessee to Edward Franklin and Rosa Calloway.
Franklin attended Swift Memorial College and later went to Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, where he worked his way through school waiting tables. After 2 years at Lincoln University, he graduated in 1909 receiving a Bachelor of Arts Degree, Magna Cum Laude.
In 1911, Franklin entered the University of Michigan’s School of Medicine. He worked his way through school shoveling ashes from the dormitory’s furnaces. Although Franklin paid the same tuition, room, and board as white students, his room was located in the basement away from other students. While at UM, Franklin joined the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. – Epsilon Chapter, and because he was a talented pianist, he served as the class musician. Franklin graduated Magna Cum Laude in 1914.
During World War I, Dr. Franklin was a member of the Army medical unit in Kentucky. Although he was an Army Doctor, his highest rank was Sergeant. Franklin moved to Evergreen, Alabama in 1915 with his wife and began his medical practice.
In 1919, Dr. Franklin treated a poor white farmer’s wife because the couple could not afford the fees of county’s white doctor. The woman improved under his care but once the townspeople learned that Dr. Franklin touched a white woman’s body, they prepared to lynch the black doctor. The white farmer was loyal to Franklin for saving his wife and purchased a train ticket for Dr. Franklin, his wife, and 2 small children. The farthest destination from Evergreen afforded by the ticket was Plateau, Alabama, a small community outside of Mobile, also known as “Africa Town,” the home of the last known illegal shipment of slaves brought to the United States.
When the Franklin family arrived in Plateau, they were penniless. They were quickly taken in and embraced by the Shamburger Family. Dr. Franklin sold his most valued possession a gold watch for 2 dollars. The watch had been given to him by his uncle. It was at that point, Dr. Franklin vowed to never be penniless again. He started a medical practice that grew quickly along with his bank account.
Dr. Franklin’s home became a safe haven for African Americans traveling in the south, including dignitaries such as Illinois Congressman Oscar DePriest, entertainer Paul Robeson, actress Dorothy Dandridge and many others.
Dr. Franklin was named by Ebony Magazine in 1954 “The South’s Riches Negro Doctor.” He held a very impressive portfolio with 2 large office buildings, 17 houses, several vacant lots, and drug stores. Dr. Franklin died at the age of 85 on July 21, 1972.
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