Dr. Franklin Delano Wilson (1942-2020)
Dr. Franklin D. Wilson came to the University of Wisconsin-Madison as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology in 1973 and retired as the distinguished William H. Sewell-Bacom Emeritus Professor of Sociology in 2007. Prior to arriving in Madison, he was an Instructor in Sociology at Grambling College in Louisiana in 1965-66, followed by service in the United States Army in Vietnam in 1966-69, with one year as unit infantry commander. He was awarded a Purple Heart and Silver Star among other awards for his valiant military service.
It was at the University of Wisconsin-Madison that he immersed himself in research, teaching, and mentoring students, young faculty, and colleagues, as he produced influential publications in his interdisciplinary areas of specialization—demography, race-ethnicity-inequality, migration-immigration-urbanization, and ethnicity-employment-labor market. Given his intellectual and social interests, it was not long after coming to the University that he was attracted to the new Department of Afro-American Studies. His involvement in that department as a member of the Executive Committee led to his position as Chair from 1984 to 1987. He later led the Sociology Department as the Chair from 1988-1991. His new graduate course, Blacks in Cities, cross-listed with Afro-American Studies and Sociology, expanded race in the Sociology curriculum, and sociology in the new M.A. program of Afro-American Studies. Its content “urbanization, distribution and redistribution of African-American populations within the U.S. system of urban agglomerations,” introduced students to quantitative analyses and problems of race and demographics in America. It was an index of a body of knowledge that he would deepen, expand, and publish in over forty sociological publications: journal articles, book chapters, working papers, and a monograph. Emeritus Professor Michael Thornton remembers Dr. Wilson’s strong support, advice, and encouragement when he was a young professor in Afro-American Studies, adding, “We all need someone like him in our lives. I hope his loved ones know that there are many who live fulfilling lives because of Franklin. He may be gone from this earth but he will not be forgotten.” Recalling Dr. Wilson’s brilliance, his “quality of mind and his scholarship,” his “laugh, the sense of humor that was at once a bit distanced and ironic and absolutely present,” Emeritus Professor Craig Werner saw him as a “father figure” who quelled his “hot-tempered arrogance” as a young professor and administrator; one whom he could “reach out to” at any time, a scholar with a starring role that was “deeply embedded in the fabric of Afro-American Studies.”
Beginning in 1973, Professor Wilson was on the research staff of the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and became a member of the Executive Committee in 1994. He was Director of the Center for Demography and Ecology from 1994-1999, as he also supervised the theses of M.A. and Ph.D. students during that time and subsequently. For three years, he was co-editor of the principal journal for research in sociology: the American Sociological Review (2000-2003). Relentlessly committed to the discipline, he also served on editorial boards of other major journals: Demography, Race and Society, Urban Geography, and International Migration Review. Similarly, he served on panels and committees, such as the Panel on Poverty and Family Assistance and the Committee on National Statistics of the National Research Council. Such disciplinary services extended to public service at local levels where he was a member, for example, of the Study Committee on the Future of Madison Schools and Oral Examiner for the Department of Health and Social Services, State of Wisconsin. He was inspired by the value of quantitative scientific study of demographics, immigration/migration of populations to understanding racial and ethnic inequities in society. He was committed to his discipline, colleagues, and students. For his distinction in his discipline, he was honored with fellowships and awards from the National Science Foundation, Mellon Foundation, and the Ford Foundation. Amid all his scholarly work, he made time for his community: 100 Black Men of Madison, Inc. and more. Appreciating the importance of Professor Wilson’s excellence in administrative leadership, scholarship, teaching, and community engagement, Emerita Professor Freida High W. Tesfagiorgis states, “Above all, Franklin was a devoted husband to Ms. Marion Brown, Emerita Vice-President of Development of the University of Wisconsin Foundation, and a loving father of two wonderful daughters, Rachel and Chareese.
Professor Wilson’s obituary can be seen at the website below:
It was an honor to write this tribute. Franklin was an important part of our Department’s history.
Freida High W. Tesfagiorgis, M.F.A., Ph.D.
Evjue Bascom Emerita Professor of African and African-American
Art History and Visual Culture
Department of Afro-American Studies, Gender & Women’s Studies, and Art
University of Wisconsin-Madison