Central Pennsylvania African American History for Everyone
              An Online Resource Since 1997


Midland Memorial, dedicated 1999.

Friends of Midland

P. O. Box 7442
Steelton, Pennsylvania 17113-0442

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Autobiographical Remembrances
of Jacob Benjamin Franklin


The Friends of Midland is privileged and fortunate to receive many treasured family papers, documents and photographs from local residents and former Steelton residents now living far away.  We take seriously our stewardship role, proud that this community trusts us to preserve not just local history, but their own family history.  To that end we strive to make available on the web as much information as possible, believing that an understanding of our common history is not just a right, but a responsibility.

Jacob Benjamin Franklin's autobiography is one such piece of history that tells not only the story of his own family, but reveals through rich detail what daily life was like in Front Royal, Virginia, and then in Harrisburg, Lochiel, Steelton, and finally Oberlin.  He relates boyhood memories of seeing the Graf Zeppelin, delivering milk, moving to Pennsylvania, living beside the railroad tracks in Lochiel, attending the Hygienic School and finally moving to high school.  Franklin's adult life included stints as a railroad laborer, steel worker, army service during World War II and as an embalmer for local funeral homes.  He later worked in the pathology labs and did autopsies at Polyclinic Hospital and Holy Spirit Hospital.

Autobiographical Remembrances of Jacob Benjamin Franklin
Aka Jacob September Baker (not dated)
(transcribed exactly, with original punctuation and grammar)

From the first acknowledgement of me and the persons around me as an individual among individuals began in 1921 as I have later pinpointed the time to have been. It was in Front Royal, Virginia on Water Street, there was Clare Franklin And Charley Franklin, both whom I called Mom and daddy. Also there was a lady, called Kate Jackson, Clara’s mother, who had just died and the Undertaker, Mr. Maddox, with a black wagon and two horses waiting to take her away. I recall getting the butcher knife from the kitchen table to stop him from taking my Nina away.

Although I was just three years old, I recall Charley “Buddy” and Georgie Jackson, Buddy was Clara’s son who lived in the Dungen House, a big house up the street. The Dungan family was Georgie’s parents. Buddy was a known horseman who cared for horses up on the Remount (Government Post).

There was Jessie Jackson, John Jackson, Charley Jackson, Alice Jackson, Eva Jackson and Eugene Jackson. Sam Jackson and Ann Jackson’s children. Sam was a brother of Clara, and had a peg leg, I think they say a horse fell on him.

There was the Dean family who ran a grocery store, that had their grandson and granddaughter living with them that were my first play-mates.

Across from us lived the Wade Travis family, relatives of sort where we often visited and I played with their five or six children, also the Carter DeNeil family of three children that I remember.

Now Charley Franklin worked construction, building the Post Office in Front Royal, that still stands out as good workmanship. I recall his having volunteered to be hoisted up the flag pole to paint it and the people standing around to watch him. There may be an article in the archives of the Front Royal Sentinel as it was a long talked of fete aside from the dedication of the Post Office.

At four years old, I would get up on summer mornings and ride with the Milk-man delivering milk. I started going to a day school, run by a Mrs. Julian Jeffrey and learned to read the primary books. By the time I was five I could recite most of the stories in the book.

Buddy used to ride his horses down, to the Dungen House and would have Georgie hand me up to set in front of him, for a short ride. As I look back, Georgie was a very attractive, aristocratic looking person, right out of the story books of Washington society. One day The horse reared back on his hind legs and Charley “Buddy,” tossed me back into George’s arms; I was not hurt or made afraid. I began to love being around horses and was given more rides whenever there was a chance.

One day a man on a bicycle came riding by our house and Mom, who Georgie called Mother Clara, told me that that man was my daddy. He talked about his two daughters and said when I got bigger he would get me a bicycle. I never saw him after that for many years. I really didn’t like him because he called me his boy and I was Charley Franklin’s boy.

One Saturday, everybody ran out into the street to watch the Zeppelin on its maiden voyage pass. It was a real long, like a cigar and moved slow.

Some summer nights Buddy and Georgie would take me down town Front Royal for Chinese food, we would pass the movie house with its bright lights but never went in. I later learned that Black People was not admitted. “Jim Crow,” a term I grew to learn of ant hated.

In 1924, we moved to a place called Harrisburg as Charley (my daddy) got a job offer building Hershey, Pennsylvania with a Contractor that knew of his mixing dark mortar. Getting mortar and brick up to raise a building was done on the shoulders of men, called hod-carriers; Charles Franklin was in my eyes a big, strong man. He had been one of the first policemen on the Steelton force back in 1800.

In Harrisburg, we lived on Seventh Street, Current Street and later moved to Lochiel, between Harrisburg and Steelton during the next three years of leaving my friends in Virginia. During these days I came to know Joe, Gladys and Estelle as my brother and sisters. I met Uncle Charley, Uncle William, Uncle Rob and Aunt Bert.

While in Harrisburg we were close with the Rev. Henry Corbin family and made many memorable trips with them back to Virginia to church meetings in their model T that would run out of water and get very hot every so many miles, but we children had fun. His children Johnny, Henry and Lorraine became my close friends down through the years, even after we moved into the Steelton area.

Lochiel was just a named place; we lived by the railroad tracks and the engineers and crewmen use to blow and wave at me every day; I thought that was big. In Harrisburg I went to a Catholic Day School and like it, they served milk and Graham crackers, until I had to get the needle inoculation. I remember they broke the needle point off in Gladys arm and that hurt her, I didn’t like them any more. We only stayed in Lochiel a couple months and there was no school, it must have been summer.

Charles Franklin (daddy to me), had relatives living in Steelton who suggested we move there, just a mile away. There was a school and they wanted me in school. We moved to 222 Bailey Street and later to 166 Ridge Street. (That number later became the first number pulled in the draft for what later became World War Two and my assigned draft number.) I started to school in 1925 at Hygienic School and had a lot of fun and made a lot of new friends, Potsie, Simp, Dizzy, Jimy, Blimp, Sag, Dick, Bolla, Jack, Robert, Alfred, Sock, Johnny, Lunch, Razz, Thomas, David, Edgar, George Cole, and George McKamey. There were picnics in Rocky Springs, Willow Mill, Hershey and Williams Grove which meant new summer clothes and good eating out of a big basket.

One Christmas, Aunt Laura, who was daddy’s sister came with bird-coloring gifts for me and offered to rent daddy a house she and Mr. Mont, her husband, owned on Lincoln Street, next to them, and so we moved. The house had more modern fixtures and close to the trolley stop. It was a big house and I liked my room as it had a good view. I had several parties from there as well as making more friends. I would spend my summers in Clark’s Summit, Pa. where Buddy lived, taking care of horses for the wealthy. I learned to ride and go on fox hunts, and fish in the lake. Mom use to tie a rope around me and sit on the dock holding onto one end in case I started to drown, that was her protection of “Jake.”

During this time I came to know Aunt Bert and her daughter Leona, Aunt Emma and her children Charley Eddie, Virginia and Mary. Virginia and Mary began to tell me of my earlier days, before the age of three, when they brought me from Virginia in a clothes basket to live with them on Drummond Street in Harrisburg, after my real mother, Mary Baker took sick and was sent away. I was about eighteen months old they say.

There use to be a circus ground up near Aunt Bert’s and we often went to watch the parades. Aunt Bert was a remarkable person for cooking and loved to feed you when ever. One day, I walked from Steelton with Dizzy Small and stopped to see Aunt Bert and she fed us until we could eat no more.

In 1934, I transferred to high school, going from a segregated school to a integrated system was a trip, for the first time I learned of the difference in the teaching area covered. We did have smart, brainy teachers at Hygienic, but their hands were tied by contract as to what, and how much to teach in the system. I met new friends and teachers, some I liked, some I disliked. High School sports was not by bag, high school fraternizing was.

In 1935, we moved again, up the hill to 500 Lincoln Street, in the Mose Everett’s property and it was there in 1936 that Mom died. I sensed the fact of losing a dearly loved through death. I was filled with questions of what to do, or how should I handle this being without my mom. Daddy was still great, but mom was Mom.

One Sunday afternoon daddy and I had just finished dinner, we always ate Sunday dinner at 3:00, a car pulled up front. There was Gladys and Estelle and my first confrontation with Mary Baker, my mother. At nineteen this was an awkward introduction to accept a year after the passing of the only mother I had known. I like her, I looked like her, she was tall an pleasant and talked of regret for not having been with her children because of her temporary mental condition and her not being signed out after having been declared as recovered.

My mind flashed back to the man on the bicycle and I disliked him even more and more determined not to be like the man on the bicycle, who said he once rode from Front Royal to Harrisburg, some two hundred odd miles.

They talked about Joe and David. David I have not yet met but was of desire to meet my little brother, I understood that he is a year younger than me. He too had been taken to live with an Aunt, Judy Parker. Aunt Judy, Uncle Cain and Uncle Gabriel are three more close relatives I had not met.

There was an Uncle Samuel Jackson living in Edgemont who had died, his large family still lived there or around, I have not met any of them, Joe has. My older brother, Joe has just about met all his kin, as he gets around.

The years began to move swiftly, I went to work on the railroad, tamping down and raising track. It was hot in the summers and cold in the winter, but a job. Mr. Mont arranged a better offer for me by getting me employed at Bethlehem Steel Company. I worked there until one day, my draft number was pulled. I was sworn in and swore to myself that I would make the best of having to leave home. Days became nights, and they both became months, and years. During this time, newer avenues of training and education were opening, and I became obsessed with the desire to prepare for civilian life, when I was discharged.

On my first leave home before shipping out for overseas duty I visited with my friends, the Bouldings, and by chance me the ideal girl of my life. Odessa, who was later to become my wife, and mother of my off spring, Fabian, Charles, Craig and Renae. My swearing to do my best in the service was paying off, as I had gone through the enlisted ranks in one year and was commissioned a Warrant Officer.

I was discharged December 26, 1945 after four years, ten months, twenty-six days of hell and of appreciative experience.

Odessa and I had a built in baby-sitter in that daddy loved taking care of Fabian and Charles so we both were able to work towards a better future. I went back to school, finishing embalming and business administration, she working at Middletown Air Depot.

The better future began unfolding with plans to build a house in Oberlin Gardens, a nice quiet suburban area, ideal to rear children and feel secure in. My education and training started paying off. I quit the Steel Works and started my own accounting business as well as doing trade embalming for several Funeral Homes; while doing Pathology Research/Autopsies, for the Harrisburg Polyclinic Hospital and Holy Spirit Hospital.

The move to Oberlin Gardens, twenty-six years has brought Odessa and I to the “mountain top” feeling that we have lived the life of being somebody. Our family now numbers four children and the memories of a deceased daddy, who not by birth right, but by the Grace of God inspired us to greater heights. He was ninety when he passed and I had had thirty-five years of his teachings to make the best of and to pass on.

I remember so many good times of my youth and honestly remember of no bad, hateful, rejected times. The first “sad time” I can recall was when Kate Jackson, Clara Franklin mother, died and was carried away in a long basket, she lived with us on Pine Street.

From then on through the years I learned to bear, strive, and enjoy the ups and downs of life, except those periods of “death losses” of loved ones (Clara and Charley Franklin). The only mom and dad I knew, until I was twenty-five, married and had started my family. By then I had two sets of relatives, the Franklins in Steelton and Virginia, with their friends had accepted me over the years as Charley Franklin’s boy.

I am only talking of my past now to give honor and respect to those that made it happen as it did and for whatever enlightenment it may be on the past as a tie to Black History. I feel I lived a very protected life under GOD’s Hand. I can, but won’t detail several brushes with death in Virginia and Pennsylvania over the past 75 years.


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