The B.C. Franklin Legal Clinic launched in fall 2021 with the generous support of the Sanford and Irene Burnstein Family Foundation and The University of Tulsa’s College of Law alumni. The clinic serves north Tulsa residents and businesses. Prior to the launch, TU Law clinical faculty and students met with community leaders, including clergy, businesspeople, service providers, and attorneys, to determine legal needs and services available. Subsequently, students in the launch semester did an in-depth needs assessment with residents and entrepreneurs to hear about their legal needs.
Requests for services are continually evaluated to determine changes/additions in the community’s legal needs. In addition, to ensure year-round legal services are available to the community, TU hired its first B.C. Franklin Legal Clinic staff attorney, Robin Sherman, in August 2022. Sherman supervises students during the clinic semester, takes the cases the students cannot finish during their semester, and has her own docket of cases.
Students enroll in the B.C. Franklin Clinic for one semester and six academic credit hours. Many students have also enrolled for an advanced clinical semester in which they may represent clients in a particularly challenging matter, or they may work on research projects.
In the clinic seminar, students delve into the history of north Tulsa and the impact of that history on today’s community. They study the Tulsa Race Massacre and the attempts to obtain justice for the survivors and descendants of the victims. These discussions allow students to gain an understanding of the role of the justice system in the lives of marginalized communities, the implicit bias and systemic racism inherent in the systems in which lawyers work, the challenges of public interest lawyering, and the balance between community education and individual representation.
Who was Buck Colbert (B.C.) Franklin?
B.C. Franklin was a Black attorney who moved to Tulsa shortly before the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre to open a law office in Greenwood, the neighborhood destroyed in the attack. His wife and children remained in Rentiesville while Franklin established himself. At the time of the massacre, Franklin had a law office and lived in a boarding house, both of which were destroyed. In 2015, Franklin’s detailed account of the horrors of the Tulsa Race Massacre was recovered.
The unspeakable brutality that Franklin witnessed did not deter his deep commitment to community service. Remarkably, in the immediate aftermath of the attack, Franklin and one of his law partners, I.H. Spears, opened a law office in a Red Cross tent, assisted by Effie Thompson, a family friend. Franklin represented north Tulsans who survived the massacre in their lawsuits against their insurance companies, the government and other defendants for damages.
Franklin exemplified legal brilliance, community service, tenacity, and resilience. To live up to his legacy is our goal, and his work continues to inspire our vision for TU Law’s B.C. Franklin Legal Clinic.
Thus far, students, faculty and staff working in the B.C. Franklin Clinic have represented community members:
in cases of divorce, child custody, child support, paternity actions, protective orders, and guardianships;
in applying for expungement and commutation of excessive sentences; and
in drafting a Transfer on Death Deed, a posthumous quit claim deed, two wills, and a trust.
represented a business in applying for trademarks;
incorporated an organization;
guided residents in filing unemployment appeals;
assisted pro se applicants in drafting responses to petitions; and
defended parents in what is essentially a deprived proceeding.
Five advanced clinic students continued work on challenging direct representations. Three of them also worked on research projects involving land ownership issues in north Tulsa and examining the abuse of guardianship proceedings in Oklahoma. Both of these research projects arose from the clinic’s work.
TU Law was asked by the City of Tulsa and the Oklahoma Access to Justice Commission to join a title clearing project and is part of a group of Oklahoma lawyers reviewing the need for reproductive justice services and advocacy.
Each year, TU Law hosts the B.C. Franklin Memorial Civil Rights Lecture. In 2022, his grandson John Whittington Franklin, who served as program manager in the Office of Interdisciplinary Studies, curator at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and senior manager at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, was the featured speaker. His lecture included information on African American and African Diasporan history and culture, the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, and his grandfather’s work in the Greenwood community. John Franklin then sat down with two TU Law students to discuss their work in the B.C. Franklin Legal Clinic.
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