Probably the first African American to receive a doctorate at UMass Amherst and the first nationally to receive a doctorate in agronomy, Major Franklin Spaulding earned a PhD in 1935 for his study Factors influencing the rate of decomposition of Different Types of Plant Tissues in Soils and the Effects of Products on Plant Growth.
Born in North Carolina on Sept. 18, 1898, Major Spaulding was the sixth of at least eleven children of the farmer McIver Spaulding and his wife Elsie. Educated, successful, and prominent within their community, the Spauldings were of mixed-race ancestry, with both African and Lumbee heritage. Listed as “Indian” in the federal census of 1900, they were recorded in 1910 and 1920 as “mulatto” and subsequently as “Black.”
Spaulding was raised on the family farm in Welches Creek before beginning his advanced education at North Carolina A&T College (BS 1925). Heading north for a second bachelors degree at Cornell (BS 1927), he went directly to earn a MS from Cornell (1928) and doctorate from Massachusetts State College (1935), working as a laboratory assistant during much of his time in Amherst to pay his way.
His distinguished career in agronomy included stints on faculty at several Historically Black Colleges and Universities, including North Carolina A&T (1928-1937), Prairie View State College (1937-1938), Tuskegee (1938-1940 and 1942-1945), Langston University (1940-1942), and Tennessee A&I University (1946-1958). In addition to serving as head of Agriculture at both NCAT and Langston, he was appointed Dean of the School Agriculture and Home Economics at Tennessee A&I in 1953. Professionally, he was active as a member of the American Society of Agronomy, Soil Science Society, International Society of Soil Science, and American Grassland Council, and was named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Spaulding was married twice: first to Leora E. Jones in Guilford, N.C., in June 1925, and then to Ella Walker Walker in 1955. Major Spaulding died on April 19, 1964.