William H. Franklin was a writer, educator, and preacher, among other things. He was a true pioneer in most of his endeavors. He was born to free parents in Knoxville on April 14, 1852. His father was a competent brick mason, who was very much in demand. His mother was a homemaker.
        He started school just one month before the Civil War began and interrupted his education. He returned to school in 1864, when General Ambrose Burnside occupied Knoxville and allowed the teaching of blacks to resume. Franklin was the acknowledged head of his class and the top student in the school.
        He attended Knoxville schools until 1870 and began teaching at Hudsonville, Mississippi. After two terms, he had saved enough money to enter Maryville College in Maryville, Tennessee. There he ranked high in his school work and was vice president of the Athenian Society during his first year in college. in 1880, Franklin became the first black person to be graduated from Maryville College.
        His graduation oration was highly praised. He entered Lane Theological Seminary in September of 1880 and was graduated in 1883.
        From Lane Seminary he went to Rogersville, Tennessee, to begin his work. He was ordained by Union Presbytery, Synod of Tennessee, in 1883 and set out to build a school. In just a few short months, he had organized what later would be known as Swift Memorial College.
        Franklin had already established himself as a respected writer before finishing college. He began writing for the Knoxville Examiner, which was edited by William F. Yardley in 1878. He also wrote for The Tennessee Star, The Herald Presbyter, The Critic, and other papers. The Afro-American Press, a book published in 1891 about black newspapers, described Franklin as "one of the most conversant correspondents that now writes for the press. His articles are always fresh and well-received and demand careful thought. He is logical, argumentative, and free from abrupt phrases." He also was highly praised for his work as a special correspondent for the New York Age and the Negro World.
        A number of nationally known individuals were prepared for impressive careers at Swift Memorial College under Reverend Franklin, including William A. Scott, the founder of the Scott Newspaper Syndicate. At age twenty, Scott was appointed Dean of Boys at the school by the Reverend Franklin.
        The Reverend William H. Franklin died in October of 1935 at the age of 83. Services were held in the college chapel. The Knoxville Public Guide of October 31, 1935, stated, "During the funeral services most of the businesses and offices of the small Tennessee town were closed. It is reported that the entire city and county took on an air of mourning as the news of the educator's death went around."