Senator Rosa Franklin

Announcing Mercy Rosa Franklin Place

“Community” has been the theme threaded throughout Rosa Franklin’s life. From her humble beginning as the youngest of 12 children raised in a small South Carolina town, to becoming the first ever African American woman elected to a seat in the Washington State Senate, Franklin has been a tireless champion of improving the community around her.

As a child, Franklin saw that community meant lifting those around you. “I grew up in the segregated South. Communities were very close,” she remembers. “You know that you’re treated differently, but you have your family, and families around you, that inspire you to move up and to bring others with you, to look out for each other.”

After graduating from high school, Franklin studied nursing at the Good Samaritan Waverly Hospital School of Nursing in Columbia, South Carolina. She went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in Biology and English, and a master’s degree in Social Sciences and Human Relations.

For more than 40 years, Franklin dedicated her life to working as a registered nurse. Through her career, she saw many things that she recognized could be improved. “We could do better,” she said. “We should not be treating people differently because of their race, their ethnicity, their religion.”

Working with Vietnam veterans at Madigan Army Medical Center had a profound impact on her. “Knowing what they did to protect us, then coming back home and not being cared for. That cannot happen. Veterans aren’t asking for handouts; they are asking for help with mental illnesses that are a result of their service.”

Franklin first moved to Tacoma, Washington in 1954 when her husband was stationed at Fort Lewis. After being transferred across the country, and then being stationed in Germany, the Franklin family returned to Tacoma in 1965, this time for good.

She never planned on becoming a community leader, but early on in her career, she noticed that the once-flourishing Washington communities were crumbling, and she couldn’t let that happen. “The original neighborhood that we lived in, Hilltop, was very vibrant. At that time, it was the center of the city of Tacoma. We had a great downtown area with shopping,  great jobs, and homeownership. But when we came back [after being stationed in Germany], and after the Civil Rights Act [of 1964], things had changed. Like a lot of cities across the country, we saw the flight from the cities, and the city center deteriorated. That is when I became really involved in my community, because I came from a family that were quite community involved. They helped each other and lifted each other up.”

Franklin was a natural leader and people noticed. She had long volunteered in her community, taking on causes including access to housing and healthcare. “After 42 years of nursing, a good friend suggested I run for office. I didn’t want to do it. But she continued after me, and I finally gave in. “Leadership comes in different ways. I didn’t seek leadership. I was concentrating on my profession of nursing because I saw what was happening in the field of nursing. Not everyone was getting care, not everyone was treated the same. It was really about caring for those that could not and giving them a voice.”

Rosa Franklin in the legislatureFranklin ran for a seat on Tacoma City Council on the platform of healthy communities, “because if you do not have healthy communities, you do not have healthy workers, and it affects your economy.” She lost the election, but the experience sparked her passion for local politics. Franklin continued to fight for social justice through her nursing career and advocated and volunteered in her community. She recognized that, “A shelter isn’t enough. Of course, people must have a shelter, but they also need services.”

“When you ask yourself the hard questions, and you answer them with the things you really want to change — then you go for it. If you want to be a servant leader, want to see things change, and lift people up, then I say, truly, go for it.”

In 1990, Franklin ran for a seat in the Washington House of Representatives, and this time, she won. When the state senator for the 29th District passed away in 1993, Representative Franklin was appointed to the seat, making history as the first African American woman in the state senate. She won the next election and served as a state senator for the next 18 years.

“In the senate, my issues were the issues affecting the lives of people,” Franklin remarks. “And the rest is history.”

Her history includes an impressive legacy with far-reaching impact we continue to  see today. She sponsored the Washington Housing Policy Act, which helped establish affordable housing as a priority for the state. She also established the Governor’s Interagency Council on Health Disparities, which aims to eliminate health disparities by race, ethnicity, and gender.

Today, the retired senator shares the same Tacoma home with her husband that they have lived in for the past five decades. She is quick to point out that her home  was built by a Black contractor, when there were not many construction jobs that went to Black contractors. Just one more way this servant leader lifted up the community around her.

Mercy Rosa Franklin Place under construction
Mercy Rosa Franklin Place is on target to open September, 2021

We are proud to announce that Mercy Housing Northwest’s newest housing community for seniors in Tacoma will be named in honor of Senator Franklin. The dedication of Franklin, and others like her, has made it possible for Mercy Housing Northwest to bring affordable housing to Washingtonians. Mercy Rosa Franklin Place, opening in September 2021, will provide 69 homes for seniors. The community is designed to provide a supportive, vibrant community for senior residents, and to facilitate interaction between the residents and wider community. This community will serve as a permanent reminder of her accomplishments and commitment to housing and health equality in the state of Washington.

Rosa Franklin smiling

“I am so honored, I never expected it,” Franklin says in regard to having the community bear her name. “I was doing my life’s work. I was just doing what I am here for.”

Ever focused on lifting up the community around her, she continues, “We find ourselves now, at a place of trying to rebuild a community that had once been a vibrant community. I hope that with Mercy Housing as part of this rebuilding process, that this community can once again be a vibrant community and help restore the things we may have had in the past.”

When asked about her hope for the future, Franklin pauses to think before responding. “If you look back historically, each generation has its issues and problems, and you can’t let that stop you. This generation will be preparing for tomorrow’s generation. My hope is that you do not exclude the previous generations, and the lessons we have learned.”