Judson Alum Makes Her Mark in the Blackbelt
Kati Burns, student writer

Being a member of 11 different professional organizations and 12 civic organizations seems like it would keep any person stressed out, but Rita O’Brien Sims Franklin, 60, is living this extraordinary lifestyle and making it seem like a walk in the park.

Franklin, who was born in Selma, Ala., attended Judson College as a freshman from 1961 to 1962. She then transferred to Huntingdon College where she spent two and a half years studying before deciding to go to work to raise her growing family.

Franklin has had many occupations in her lifetime including Interior Designer and Accountant for Sims Furniture and Interiors, a family owned store in Selma. She served as a board member for the Selma Planning Commission from 1970 to 1980; a council member of the Selma City Council from 1980 to 1984 and from 1988 to the present. Franklin also served as President Pro-Tempore for that same council from 1992 to 1993 and from 2000 to the present.

Explaining her interest in the government, Franklin said that it all began with a little conflict.

Her mother was a member of the Garden Club at the time and needed to obtain permission from the Selma City Council to plant some azaleas on a piece of city property. Franklin volunteered to speak to the council for her mother. After presenting her dilemma, however, Franklin was reprimanded by one of the male council members for bothering to ask.

“They call it ‘baptism by fire,” Franklin said. “Anyway, he made me mad so I told him I would run in the next election and beat him.” And she did in 1980, becoming the first woman to be elected to the City Council and later to President Tempore.

Franklin’s success didn’t stop there, though. She’s been a member of several professional organizations including the National League of Cities where she is the Steering Committee Member of Transportation, Infrastructure and Service; Women in Municipal Government where she is the immediate past president; and the Alabama Urban Forestry Association and the Alabama League of Municipalities. Franklin is also a member of many civic organizations including the Selma Area Food Bank, Smithsonian Institution Historical Association of Washington, the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York, Selma Arts Council, the Community Action Agency, Library of Congress Association Charter Member and the Selma-Dallas County Historic Preservation Society.

In 1996 and 1999, Franklin completed 40 advanced credit hours of training in Municipal Government courses to earn the designation of "Advanced Certified Municipal Official" and in 2000 she completed training in the Alabama Urban Forestry Association.

“I don’t work under pressure,” Franklin said, when asked about her busy schedule. “I never put anything off, just take it as it comes and I love being on the City Council.”

Women in Municipal Government is just one of many interesting organizations that Franklin is involved in. WIMG, established in 1974, is an affliiate of the National League of Cities Organization, and WIMG members try to learn and to educate others on important civic issues. Franklin served as president in 2002 and on the selection panel for the "Good Housekeeping/Wyeth Award for Women in Government" with former congresswoman and vice-presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro.

Franklin has been the recipient of many awards, most of which are on display in Old Depot Museum in Selma.

“I don’t put much in winning awards,” she admitted. “It’s not all about that. I just do what needs to be done. By pulling together we (women) can and do make a difference."

However, Franklin stated that she wouldn’t be running for reelection this August.

“The community wants me to run for mayor or probate judge,” Franklin said. “I haven’t really decided what I’ll run for, though.”

As for her short time spent at Judson College, Franklin said she always wanted to return.

“I enjoyed friendships with the girls and the professors were nice,” Franklin said. “They had an interest in you and wanted you to do well.”

Franklin is the mother of two daughters, Susan, 32, and Sarah, 26.

“If I had one thing to say to young women today,” Franklin said. “I would tell them to get an education and be able to make a living for themselves and their children. That’s most important.”

Franklin is a member of First Baptist Church in Selma and lives in Selma with her mother, May Frances O’Brien Sims, and their white German shepherd, Benjamin O’Brien Sims Franklin IV.

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