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1942 Franklin 2020

Franklin Wilson

September 3, 1942 — December 22, 2020

Franklin Delano Wilson, Ph.D., the William H. Sewell-Bascom Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, passed on December 22, 2020, at his home in Fitchburg, Wisconsin. He was 78 years of age.

Franklin was born on September 3, 1942, in Birmingham, Alabama, the second of six children to his parents, the Ollie Lee Wilson and Ernest Wilson, Sr.  His siblings included: brothers, Ernest, Jr., James, Truman, and Richard; and sister, Carol Ann. Franklin graduated from A. H. Parker High School.

Franklin attended Miles College, a historically Black college, in Fairfield, Alabama, where his love of learning was ignited.  He was active in several organizations and was a proud member of the Sigma Chapter of the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc.  While at Miles, Franklin developed life-long friendships and earned his Bachelor of Arts Degree in Sociology in 1964. Shortly thereafter, he began his teaching career as a Sociology Instructor at Grambling State University in Grambling, Louisiana from 1965-1966.

From 1966 to 1969, Franklin served in the U.S. Army.  He was promoted to Lieutenant and served as an Infantry Commander in Vietnam.  In recognition of his leadership, sacrifice and bravery, Franklin was awarded several medals and commendations, including the Silver Star and Purple Heart.  An unsung hero who served his country admirably, he was honorably discharged in 1969.  He then attended Washington State University in Pullman, Washington from 1971 to 1973, where he earned a Master of Arts, a Ph.D. and completed post-doctoral studies in Sociology.

A preeminent scholar and researcher, Franklin graced the University of Wisconsin-Madison for over four decades.  He was awarded the William H. Sewell-Bascom Professorship in recognition of his scholarship and service.  Beginning in 1973, Professor Wilson was on the research staff of the Institute for Research on Poverty and became a member of the Executive Committee in 1994.  Among other responsibilities, he served as Chair of the Department of Afro-American Studies and Department of Sociology, and as Director of the Center for Demography and Ecology.  He was Co-Editor with Professor Charles Camic of the American Sociological Review , the flagship journal of the American Sociological Association from 2000-2003.  In addition, he served on editorial boards of other major journals.

Franklin was equally passionate about his family and community.  His first marriage to Julia Viltz produced two beautiful daughters, Rachel and Chareese.  He believed his daughters should have positive African American role models and experiences to shape their future.  In a leap for gender equality for Black men, Franklin became a charter member of Jack and Jill, Madison.  He also was a charter member of 100 Black Men of Madison.  His commitment to public service included his work on the Study Committee on the Future of Madison Schools and as an oral examiner of the Department of Health and Human Services.  It was at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he would meet his beloved second wife and soul mate, Marion Brown.  They married in 1986 and formed a blended family.  He loved his extended family and never missed an event.

He enjoyed debating with friends and colleagues on the political issue of the time.  Franklin’s generation pushed the boundaries that had been set by segregation and arrived in a new place; an America that transitioned in response to the demands for social and racial justice.  His generation lived through deep sorrow and boundless joy, from the horror of the murder of Emmett Till to the celebration of President Barack Obama’s historic victory.

Franklin accomplishments were many, national and even global, in scope. Despite starting life from humble beginnings, he excelled as an academician at one of the top universities in the nation .  He also left an indelible mark on the lives of students within and outside of the classroom. A gifted teacher, adviser, and mentor, he challenged students to always strive for excellence.  He strongly believed that it was important to create pathways for underrepresented students to gain access to a college education.

Franklin maintained a never-ending quest for knowledge, a sense of joy and a thirst for life that others found infectious and inspiring, despite his numerous medical and physical challenges.   He will be fondly remembered for his generous spirit, deep hearty-laugh, the sparkle in his eyes, and his quick wit.

Franklin D. Wilson leaves to mourn his passing his devoted wife Marion; daughters Rachel Wilson and Chareese Wilson; grandchildren Cameron and Ciera; two brothers, Ernest Jr., and Richard (Florell); his sister Carol Ann Sievers; mother-in-law Odessa Brown; sisters-in-law, brothers-in-law and many nieces, nephews, extended family, and an abundance of friends and colleagues, including members of the “Inefficiency Club”.  He was predeceased by his parents Ollie Lee and Ernest Wilson, Sr. and two brothers James (Inez) and Truman (Anna).

The family would like to thank the doctors and health care professionals for their compassionate care.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in honor of Franklin D. Wilson to Miles College   ( ), Office of Institutional Advancement, 3500 Myron Massey Boulevard, Fairfield, AL 35064; or to the Franklin Wilson - Great People Scholarship, a program that supports need-based undergraduate students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (

A Celebration of Life will be held at a later date.

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Franklin Wilson, please visit our flower store.


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