No one knows better the danger that a tense circumstance can present than police in the United States. Constantly under pressure to control people who are guaranteed rights that provide them a wide latitude of no control, the scenarios that citizens can present range from the mundane to sheer terror, even for a trained professional. With that thought, we continue to reflect on moments in the history of law enforcement we wish we could get back, the sacrifices of those that have paid the ultimate price on our behalf.
Before we present this officer, we’d like to take a moment to thank Marsha Ardila at the South Carolina Law Enforcement Officers Hall of Fame for providing us source material for this officer, and for supporting our efforts. Without her, and State Memorial staff like her, it would be difficult for us to present officers from the far past in an accurate light. Among other roles, she works as a historian for the organization, and her life’s mission is researching officers who have died in the line of duty, present and past. And as one would imagine, there are more from the past being discovered, than any one person could keep up with. We would also suggest that when you find yourself in South Carolina, likely heading to the beautiful beaches, that you take some time to visit the Hall of Fame, because it’s one of the most tasteful active memorials found in the country and provides a deep, researched based history of law enforcement in The Palmetto State.
Sergeant Howard Henry Franklin
Sergeant Howard Franklin was born on September 9th, 1857, and he first served as a police officer with the Newberry Police Department, South Carolina in the mid-1880’s, before retiring after 27 years of service. He moved his wife, Sudie, and three children, Annie, Katie, and Howard Jr., to Orangeburg, where he worked for year with the Branchville Police, before hiring on with the Orangeburg Police. He was promoted to Sergeant at Orangeburg very soon after being hired, and his primary function in this role was as a detective. On Saturday, January 13th, 1917, a home was burglarized at night. The criminal, later identified as Mackey Palmer, had stolen $575 dollars, and fled the scene. Sergeant Franklin established the trail of Palmer all the way to Savannah, Georgia, where Sergeant Franklin arrested Palmer and brought him back to Orangeburg County to await trial and sentencing for the burglary. On March 5th, Palmer escaped the jail, and three nights later, the same residence was broken into again. Palmer was suspected of this burglary as well, and bloodhounds were sent out to track the criminal from the house, but the scent went cold when they reached the Edisto River, early the next morning.
Later that Friday, a phone tip came into Orangeburg Police giving the location of Palmer. Chief of Police Jennings gave the information to Sergeant Franklin, telling him to search the house, and arrest Palmer. Sergeant Franklin hailed down an automobile transfer, which in modern day is known as a taxicab, and located Officer Marion Z. Wolfe on his foot beat, and both officers went to the residence. They searched the entire house, and found one room that was locked. Both officers suspected that Palmer was in the room. Sergeant Franklin had Officer Wolfe stage at the back door, while Sergeant Franklin attempted entry through a window. As he entered, Palmer fired a gun, striking Sergeant Franklin three times. Officer Wolfe ran into the house, to the front door, believing Palmer would use it escape. Instead, Palmer jumped out the window that Sergeant Franklin used, and then Officer Wolfe gave chase, firing at Palmer, who then ran into swamp area surrounding the Edisto.
Sergeant Franklin was rushed by train to Columbia for surgery, but by the time he arrived he was too far gone, and he died at 4:15 PM on March 6th, 1917. A most unfortunate detail in this story is that March 6th was the 30th wedding anniversary for Sergeant Franklin and his wife, who was in the hospital as well, for a lengthy illness. Sergeant Franklin had intended to go to the hospital to visit her at the end of his shift. Palmer was located by police on March 10th, and officers worked in secret to transport him to the Charleston County Jail, out of concern that some citizens from outside of Orangeburg were organizing a lynching. It was common in these days for rebellious citizens to assert pressure on police when attempting to arrest black criminals, and as was routine in this time, South Carolina officers routinely hid their efforts, and worked together to transport black criminals to prison before they could be discovered by the terrible actors of the era. Palmer was eventually found guilty of murder, and was sentenced to death by electrocution, with a date of June 20th, 1917. A friend of Palmer, Clinton Kennedy was tried for accessory before the fact, and was found guilty, and was given a life sentence.
While this was a period that was rife with unjust feelings over race, one thing cannot be disputed, and that is Sergeant Franklin had provided a fair process for Palmer, and he didn’t deserve to be killed for doing his job. Comparing his career to the modern era, he would have already qualified for retirement for his time at Newberry Police alone. But he was still out there, working in an even bigger community, continuing to serve the needs of citizens above his own.
In memory of Sergeant Howard Henry Franklin.