A. Q. Franklin (1852–1924)
Alexander Q. Franklin was born on March 20, 1852, in the city of Richmond and was the son of Benjamin Franklin, a bricklayer who had been a slave before purchasing his freedom. It is possible that his mother was a white woman and not Franklin’s wife, Martha Franklin. According to family tradition, when Franklin was young, a white woman from the North taught him to read and write. She may have been his biological mother.
A. Q. Franklin, as he was familiarly known, grew up in Richmond or neighboring Henrico County, but little is known of his early life. It is probable that he was the man of that name who early in the 1870s was active in the Sons of Temperance in Richmond. In 1871 he was working as a laborer in Richmond, and then between 1873 and 1875 taught school in Powhatan County. In the latter year he moved to Charles City County, where he became one of the first black teachers in the Chickahominy district. On December 30, 1875, Franklin married Anna Marion Brown, whose uncle Samuel Brown,of the historic Elam Baptist Church, performed the ceremony. She was the great-granddaughter of who about 1810 had founded the church. Franklin later served as its treasurer as well as a trustee and a deacon. He and his wife had six sons, one of whom died in infancy, and three daughters.
Throughout his adulthood, in addition to teaching Franklin also farmed and held various political offices in order to support himself and his family. He won a special election in 1876 to become commissioner of revenue for Charles City County. Two years later the county treasurer accused him of negligence, but the county court determined that Franklin was not guilty of any misconduct requiring his dismissal. He left office when his term ended in 1879, but in May 1883 he was elected to a full four-year term. He won the subsequent five elections and served as commissioner of revenue until 1907. In 1880 and in 1910 he was also the enumerator for the census in the district where he and his family lived. In 1881 Franklin helped establish Bull Field Academy, a school for African Americans in the community of Ruthville. Local residents supported it financially because the few schools for black students in the county received little public funding. He was the school’s first teacher and educated all his children there.
On March 14, 1881, Franklin attended aof African American Republican men in Petersburg, at which they agreed to support the new biracial rather than Republicans in the upcoming elections. The Readjusters promised to left over from before the (1861–1865) to reduce interest payments as a means of providing additional money to the . The convention delegates announced that the interests of African Americans would be “better secured and preserved by aiding that party in its efforts to permanently settle the antagonism of races which has unfortunately affected the prosperity of our State.”
Franklin served as a canvasser for the Readjusters in Charles City County during the election campaign and was secretary of the local Readjuster executive committee. On June 14, 1882, he asked the Readjuster leader, U.S. senatorFranklin ran for a two-year term in the House of Delegates in 1889 from the district comprising the counties of Charles City and New Kent. He easily defeated his opponent with 1,212 votes out of 2,049 cast. In the legislative session that met during the winter of 1889–1890 Franklin was a member of the relatively inconsequential Committees on Labor and the Poor and on Militia and Police. Early in the session the assembly voted to lower flags on the Capitol to half-staff after the death of , to help him procure a job as agent for the U.S. mail on the eastern portion of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, but Mahone declined. For the remainder of the Readjuster Party’s short existence Franklin supported it, including assisting in raising money to help African American voters pay their poll taxes before the Readjusters repealed the constitutional requirement requiring payment of a to vote. After the Readjuster Party dissolved following the 1885 election, Franklin resumed his membership in the Republican Party. and to request that Davis be buried in Virginia. Legislative records indicate that the resolutions passed by voice vote, so it is not known how Franklin voted. He voted against one of the resolutions late in the session to accept a proposal from owners of the state’s bonds to enter into negotiations to settle the remaining financial and legal issues after the Readjuster Party refinanced the public debt in 1882. He was one of only three African Americans elected to the House of Delegates in 1889, the last to win election to the assembly until 1967. By the 1890s Virginia’s had made it virtually impossible for African Americans to win elections except to local offices in a few black-majority counties, such as Charles City, where on September 2, 1902, Franklin registered to vote under the of the .
Between 1886 and 1921, Franklin purchased more than 460 acres of land in Charles City County. One of his acquisitions included a property named Northwood, which had previously been a school for white students. In 1908 he enlisted the support of community leaders to open a central county high school in Ruthville and to hire an additional teacher. The Intellectual and Industrial Association they formed included representatives from several African American churches. They pooled their resources, purchased land, and obtained additional assistance from the Anna T. Jeanes Foundation, which provided funding for teacher supervision and industrial education for African Americans. After the new Training School, as it was called, was completed, Bull Field Academy closed in 1911. The proprietors of the Training School deeded it to the county in 1918. It was later named Ruthville High School and still later Charles City County High School.
The Virginia historiangave credit to Franklin for the high percentage of college-educated African American men and women from Charles City County. Franklin’s children attended Virginia Normal and Industrial Institute (later Virginia State University), and his three daughters became teachers in Charles City County. Two of his sons became druggists, and his son Charles Sumner Franklin, after working for several years as a teacher, received a medical degree from Leonard Medical School of Shaw University in 1907. He returned to Charles City County to practice medicine, initially in an office in his parents’ home. He made unsuccessful campaigns for the county board of supervisors in 1947, losing by only a few votes, and for the House of Delegates in 1949.
Franklin died at his home in Charles City County on June 8, 1924, from chronic myocarditis. He was buried there in the Elam Baptist Church Cemetery, where his widow was buried in 1936.