Donald E. Franklin, Retired Reporter of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and one of the Founding Members of the Greater St. Louis Association of Black Journalists (GSLABJ), Dies at 79 Years Old
by Nicole Franklin
Donald Lee Eddric Franklin passed away on the morning of May 20, 2017 after a two-year battle with pulmonary fibrosis. He spent 37 years as a journalist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, formerly a Pulitzer publication. He retired in 2004.
He was born in Marianna, AK on June 1, 1937 to James C. Franklin, Sr. and Bessie (Jackson) Franklin. The family moved to East St. Louis, IL where Donald’s father worked as an East St. Louis firefighter, who rose to the ranks of Assistant Fire Chief. His mother was a seamstress in the St. Louis City garment industry in addition to being a hairdresser. Donald was one of four siblings who include James C. Franklin, Jr., his sister De Lois (deceased), and a brother who passed away as an infant.
Growing up in East St. Louis Donald was known to rigorously pursue his studies often competing with his classmates to know all of the correct answers in time for school the following day. He would share stories of some of the teachers who did not believe he and his friends actually knew the answers that warranted top scores, thus Don and his friends would be retested. They knew as young students, this doubt in their abilities was indicative of the times. Also during these times jazz giants Ella Fitzgerald, John Coltrane and local legend Miles Davis would fill Don’s teen years with an unprecedented appreciation for jazz. Don could share his fondness for the artform with schoolmate and local legendary jazz disc jockey Leo Chears (“The Man in the Red Vest”). It was no secret to many who knew Don that the ultimate jazz vocalist for him would forever be the incredible Sarah Vaughan.
Don attended the reputable East St. Louis Lincoln Senior High School (Class of 1954) where he played trombone in the marching band. He graduated Southern Illinois University (SIU) Carbondale with a degree in English in 1958, having pledged Kappa Alpha Psi his senior year. His post-graduate plans were to become an educator. He joined the United States Army Reserves and was hired to teach in District 189 in East St. Louis. Later, he relocated to Chicago, IL to work as a high school teacher.
In 1967 Don returned to the St. Louis area and was hired by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where he mentioned during the interview the need to hire a number of Black reporters. While as a reporter in the Metro East Bureau, Don covered a strike in the East St Louis School District. It was there he saw a young picketer, East St. Louis elementary teacher Irene Clay. They were formally introduced through a friend soon after, and he proposed to Irene three months later.
Don and Irene married in 1968 and moved to the North Side of St. Louis — Irene’s side of town. While there, the couple entertained an offer from the United States Foreign Service to travel on assignment. But Don chose to reject the offer for one reason: Irene was expecting the first of what would eventually be three daughters. He wanted her born in the States. He continued with The St. Louis Post-Dispatch who offered a new adventure: A Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship to the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, New York. In addition to his studies in the Harlem neighborhood he worked in New Jersey as a stringer for the Newark Star-Ledger, closely following the mayoral campaign of Kenneth A. Gibson, elected Mayor of Newark, NJ in 1970. While in New York, Don and Irene resided in Montclair, NJ where their daughter Nicole was born.
Upon the Franklins’ return to St. Louis, Don, continued his career as a general reporter and eventual assistant city editor (night) at The St. Louis Post-Dispatch. As one of the founding members of the Greater St. Louis Association of Black Journalists, Don pursued daily assignments as award-winning opportunities to expand coverage on civil rights, voting rights and exposing police brutality. Near the end of his career Don went back on the streets as the homicide beat reporter.
Even though he had a full-time journalism gig, Don was also moonlighting as a home renovator. After a couple of side projects, he decided to build a house from the ground up for his growing family that now included daughters Candice and Kirsten Franklin. As a young man in East St. Louis, Don always wanted to live in the Central West End, having caught the bus with his siblings to see seasons of shows at The Muny Opera as a child. Living across from Forest Park was a lifetime goal. He worked with an architect on the blueprints for his family home, registered for courses on electrical and plumbing at East St. Louis Community College and launched Franklin Contracting Company.
As a number of St. Louisans have reminisced, Don recruited the occasional jogger or passerby as an extra pair of hands during construction. He also enlisted his brother, James, an engineer, to approve all wiring before final inspection. And, a white stray, super strong, broken-eared German Shepherd known to all as “Mr. White” served as the building’s Head of Security.
Don, his wife and daughters officially moved into their new home in 1981. Many would stop by to see the family and marvel at Don’s building project. He and the family went on to enjoy all the benefits that accompanied their proximity to Forest Park. Post-Dispatch colleague Anthony Glover remembers their days spent in the park and at Busch Stadium downtown with The St. Louis Cardinals: “If Bob Gibson was pitching, Don and I had tickets. We were at the game to witness Lou Brock set the stolen base record. We watched Mel Gray’s controversial touchdown catch, from the east end zone against the Washington Redskins. In our younger days, we played tennis in Forest Park.”
The family recalls numerous opening box office weekends with Don’s film genre of choice: Blockbuster sci-fi/action adventure. Most importantly, Don loved people and loved talking about all of his three daughters’ adventures in their artistic pursuits to absolutely anyone and everyone who would listen.
Don spent much of the time during his final years on the front porch, observing all who enjoyed the popular bicycle and running paths in the park as well as the music and revelers from the Twilight Tuesdays concert series, hosted by the Missouri History Museum.
Donald Franklin is survived by his older brother James C. Franklin, Jr. and their aunt Ruby Perry (Rubin) of Roswell, GA and uncle Nelson Jackson of Los Angeles, CA, the last of his parents’ siblings. Don leaves behind his wife Irene, a pianist, Church musician, and retired music educator in St. Louis and their three daughters and two sons-in-law: Filmmaker and professor Nicole L. Franklin of Long Island, NY, dancer and choreographer Candice Michelle Franklin (Candice Franklin-Cox) and Jerry “Niru” Cox of Harlem, NY and photographer Kirsten M. Petty and Daniel Petty of St. Louis.
For those who wish to donate in Don’s honor, his preferred charity was St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. He would also encourage his fellow neighbors to focus on the youth of St. Louis and East St. Louis: Mentor them, teach them and support their dreams, emphasizing education first.
Officer Funeral Home, P.C. — Metro East Chapel is handling all arrangements. A celebratory service and “Evening of Jazz” will be held on Saturday, June 24 in Don’s honor. The morning service will take place at 11am at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, 1648 Tudor Ave, East Saint Louis, IL 62207.