John Porter Franklin, long a leading figure in Chattanooga city government, has died. He was the city's first, elected black official, post Jim Crow laws, in 1971.
Mr. Franklin's father, G.W. Franklin, was a pioneer funeral home director and John Franklin continued in that line. He was first an official in Franklin-Strickland Funeral Home, then he started John P. Franklin Funeral Home with his son and daughter.
Mr. Franklin attended East Fifth Street School and is a graduate of Howard High School. Upon graduating from Howard, he attended Tuskegee Institute for two years before beginning service in the Army in 1942. Upon returning to Chattanooga after World War II, he worked for the family business his father had founded, Franklin Funeral Home. Because his mother was a teacher for many years in the Chattanooga School System, Mr. Franklin was determined to complete his education. In 1950 he earned a bachelor’s of science degree in physical education from Fisk University and subsequently earned a master’s degree in education and health in 1951 from Indiana University.
Mr. Franklin, again, returned home to work in the family business and also applied for a job with the city school system. After serving as a coach and teacher at Orchard Knob Junior High School, Mr. Franklin was selected to head the physical education program for black secondary schools of the city. In 1960, he was named principal of W.J. Davenport School and a year later went to Alton Park Junior High School as principal. A position held until 1971.
In 1971, Mr. Franklin entered the city’s political arena, successfully running for Commissioner of Education and Health, holding the position for 20 years. As a recipient of the highest number of votes among successful commission candidates, he served as vice-mayor for four of five year terms. During this same period of time, Mr. Franklin served as chairman of the City School Board and in 1981, served as president of the Tennessee School Boards Association. Upon leaving the government stage in 1991, he returned to assist other family members with operating the family business.
Mr. Franklin was the recipient of numerous awards and honors from many professional and civic groups for his educational and civic involvement. In addition, he received recognition and awards from several organizations and institutions for meritorious service and business leadership in the community and state.
Mr. Franklin had two children and four grandchildren.
Former Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield said, "Chattanooga’s relatively quiet transition through the tumultuous era of civil rights toward becoming a more open and inclusive community was made possible by the stately presence, wise guidance and steady hand of John Franklin Sr. It was my privilege to serve with him on the last City Commission as we turned the page and ushered in the more representative City Council. He was a quiet and heroic leader through difficult times. The modern city that we enjoy today owes him a great debt."