A century after attorney Buck Colbert Franklin (1879-1960) set up shop in Tulsa’s Greenwood District to offer legal counsel to an underrepresented community, The University of Tulsa’s College of Law is returning to that neighborhood to carry on Franklin’s legacy and give hope to those most in need.
The Buck Colbert Franklin Legal Clinic will be the latest addition to TU Law’s Clinical Education Program. It will provide free legal services to clients in Greenwood and North Tulsa who require assistance with a variety of issues identified in consultation with community leaders and service providers. Legal assistance will be available, for example, on issues including housing, such as foreclosure prevention and evictions; disability applications; expungements and pardons; unemployment applications; small business formation; and problems repaying business loans.
The clinic is named after Tulsa attorney Buck Colbert Franklin, who was admitted to the Oklahoma Bar in December 1907 and established his law practice in Tulsa with Attorney I.H. Spears on Greenwood Avenue in 1921. Franklin moved to Tulsa 100 years ago this month from Rentiesville, where he had lived with his wife, Molly Parker Franklin, and his two youngest children, Anne Harriet and John Hope. His family had lived in Oklahoma since they arrived in the 1830s, enslaved to the Birney Chickasaw family.
In the aftermath of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, Franklin served his community and his profession by assisting massacre survivors. Working from a tent because his office had been burned down, Franklin fought back against the injustice of the massacre and the city’s assault on Tulsa’s Black community. Through his advocacy, the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down a City of Tulsa ordinance passed in the aftermath of the massacre that allowed survivors to rebuild their homes only if they used fireproof building materials.
“My grandfather, B.C. Franklin, helped his community rebuild after a white mob destroyed Greenwood in two days. You will note that his clinic, photographed June 6, 1921, accommodated his partner, I. H. Spears, and their temporary secretary, Effie Thompson, my grandfather’s college classmate from Roger Williams University in Nashville. The tent held lawbooks, a typewriter and a telephone! Residents lined up to submit their insurance claims,” said historian John. W. Franklin, a program manager and curator at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. “I am very pleased that the new TU B.C. Franklin Legal Clinic honors Grandpop’s commitment to public service.”
“The TU College of Law is well recognized for providing outstanding clinical programs that serve multiple needs and diverse communities in our city,” commented Dean Lyn Entzeroth. “The College of Law Buck Colbert Franklin Legal Clinic, which grew out of the collaborative work of TU alumni, faculty, students and community members, expands the breadth of the college’s clinical offerings and carries on Mr. Franklin’s legacy of service, leadership and justice.”
The Buck Colbert Franklin Legal Clinic is possible thanks to the generosity of donors who contributed to the recent ‘Cane Crowd fundraising campaign in support of the 1921 Race Massacre Centennial Coalition, a new entity at TU Law comprised of students, faculty and alumni. The coalition’s mission is to mark the centennial of the tragedy with hope and action. Members of TU Law’s vibrant Alumni Association have been particularly instrumental in conceiving of and financially supporting the coalition and the clinic.
First steps: Confronting housing insecurity
The Buck Colbert Franklin Legal Clinic will eventually have a physical presence in the community it will serve. In the meantime, a virtual legal clinic held Jan. 23 focused on housing issues. Clinic organizers chose this topic because of the many acute challenges renters in Tulsa face, including the city’s high eviction rate. As a recent report by TU Law’s Terry West Civil Legal Clinic underscored, Tulsa’s eviction rate is the 11th highest in the United States, a situation that has been compounded by the economic and health fallout of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“Despite the fact that it was only the first week of the spring semester, our students stepped up to the plate, with all the work for the Jan. 23 event conducted over the phone,” said Associate Dean for Experiential Learning Mimi Marton. Noting that this is a challenging way to operate for both clients and students, Marton commented that “we are committed to providing services that the communities need using all of the resources at our disposal. We could not have done this without the help of community leaders and our TU Law alumni, and without the trust that the clients placed in us. We look forward to many years of providing legal services to the North Tulsa and Greenwood communities.”
Over the course of five hours, 16 students worked in teams of two to help 10 clients. Prior to this clinic, the students had undergone a week of focused training on topics such as Oklahoma’s landlord and tenant legislation as well as the long-term effects on tenants of the eviction process. During the event itself, they were assisted by clinical faculty and two lawyers from Housing Solutions. Clients brought a variety of issues to the table, including homelessness, safety and disability.
For 2L student Abigail Bauer, helping people to navigate these turbid waters held both personal and professional significance. On one hand, the clinic enabled her to act on her belief that those with legal knowledge have a responsibility to assist others who lack such a resource.
In addition, the applied training dimension is critical. “These real-world experiences cannot be replaced. The chaos of the ‘unknown’ – unknown clients, unknown extension of the eviction moratorium, unknown global health circumstances – forced us to prepare for an array of scenarios. This strenuous type of preparation is what helps our minds think more critically because we now have real clients to protect,” she said.
Plan to attend the 21st Annual Buck Colbert Franklin Memorial Lecture, featuring Hannibal B. Johnson, Esq. This year’s lecture will be presented virtually on Feb. 18.