County officials have agreed to spend $173,000 to purchase and preserve the home of a former physician, which served as a safe haven for black entertainers and dignitaries visiting Mobile during the height of segregation when hotels throughout the Port City refused to accommodate them.
The “Franklin House,” as it’s often referred to, was the longtime residence of Dr. James A. Franklin, who practiced medicine in Mobile for 53 years — mostly serving indigent patients — until his death in 1972.
He reportedly arrived in Mobile fleeing a lynch mob in Evergreen seeking to kill him for “touching a white woman” he treated after she and her husband were too poor to pay the local white physicians. Franklin said the woman’s husband, a farmer, sold a horse and paid his train fare for saving his wife’s life.
After establishing himself in Mobile as a physician and a successful entrepreneur, Franklin began opening up his home at 355 N. Ann St. to traveling African Americans who couldn’t find accommodations elsewhere due to the South’s prohibitive Jim Crow laws.
Today, his house is featured on the Dora Franklin Finley African American Heritage Trail and a historic marker designates its location.
However, the property, which had remained under the ownership of Franklin’s estate, was foreclosed on in May.
Mobile County Commissioner Merceria Ludgood, whose district includes the Franklin House, believed it was too important to lose, and allocated some of her discretionary capital funds to save it.
“The Dr. James Franklin House is a critical part of the story of African Americans in Mobile,” Ludgood said. “Many of the landmarks and iconic buildings that are central to the history of that time have been lost to urban renewal, neglect and a general lack of appreciation for how they shaped Mobile as we now know it.”
The $173,000 expenditure approved by the commission on Oct. 30 will pay for the purchase of the property, but Ludgood said there won’t be any immediate need for renovations or upgrades because the property has been kept in “good shape” over the years. While it took a vote of the full commission, those dollars are coming from capital project funding specifically allocated for Ludgood’s district.
Ideally, Ludgood said she’d like the county to eventually partner with a local nonprofit to maintain the property so those expenses don’t fall to the county. She described her vision as less of a museum and more of “a place of interest” that she would like to see on the National Register of Historic Places.
Speaking to Lagniappe, Ludgood specifically mentioned the home’s role as one of Mobile’s “green book facilities,” which is a reference to the guides many black travelers used during segregation to help them find hotels, restaurants and service stations willing to accommodate them.
In smaller cities that did not have black hotels, it wasn’t uncommon for people to open up their own homes to travelers.
Franklin actually maintained a guestbook that he asked travelers to sign.
It is currently housed at the History Museum of Mobile and includes the name of famous musicians, actors and athletes like Marian Anderson, Jackie Robinson, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) official Walter White, Roy Wilkins and Paul Robeson.
Ludgood said keeping that history alive is important, adding “we already lose so many things.”
“Maintaining Franklin House as a community asset is one step toward preserving what remains,” she said. “It honors the contributions and sacrifices of those on whose shoulders we stand on and reminds us of the need to make our institutions sustainable so they will be available for future generations.”
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