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Honored by the Queen days before her death, Philly’s chief British delegate is a Lincoln U. grad

“As a Black man in America, I’m a direct product of colonization,” Oliver St. Clair Franklin said. Franklin was appointed a Commander of the British Empire, the honor just below knighthood.

Oliver St. Clair Franklin, the third Honorary British Consul for Greater Philadelphia, poses for a portrait in Philadelphia.
Oliver St. Clair Franklin, the third Honorary British Consul for Greater Philadelphia, poses for a portrait in Philadelphia.Read moreTyger Williams / Staff Photographer

Meet Oliver St. Clair Franklin, the third honorary British consul for Greater Philadelphia.

• On diplomacy: “I’ve always liked diplomats because as long as they’re talking, there’s not supposed to be any fighting. Once they stop talking, the generals take over.”

• Championing Philly: “I get to promote the city of Philadelphia globally, and you know what, it’s not a hard sell either.”

In May, Oliver St. Clair Franklin received word he was going to be appointed a Commander of the British Empire, the honor just below knighthood, for his service to further U.S.-U.K. relations as the third Honorary British Consul for Greater Philadelphia for the last 24 years.

But Franklin, 76, was sworn to secrecy until Queen Elizabeth II signed the official paperwork. When she died Sept. 8, he assumed the documents would be signed by her son, King Charles III.

“Then I received a call that it had been signed. I was told that it was signed by the queen three days before she passed away,” Franklin said. “I’m still trying to get my head around it.”

Emma Wade-Smith, the U.K’s consul general in New York and trade commissioner for North America, said in a statement that it was a “well-deserved honour” for Franklin.

“For a quarter of a century, Oliver has championed U.K.-U.S. ties and cooperation through his business acumen and adroit public diplomacy skills,” Wade-Smith wrote. “I, and my predecessors as consul general in New York over the last 25 years, have been very grateful for his service, support, and dedication.”

As Philly’s chief British diplomat, Franklin, who receives a small stipend, helps to answer Brits’ questions on Philly and Philadelphians’ questions about Britain; he works to promote trade and investment; and he seeks to raise Philly’s profile in the U.K. and the U.K.’s profile here.

While he’s deeply passionate about Britain, a land he first became intrigued with after learning formerly-enslaved abolitionist Frederick Douglass sought refuge there, Franklin also knows the trauma the empire caused through colonization — and he’s committed to making sure others know that history, too.

“As a Black man in America, I’m a direct product of colonization,” Franklin said. “It created a great empire, it made Britain the greatest nation on earth, but it also engendered a whole lot of violence and pain for people who were under colonization.”

Franklin grew up in Baltimore, the son of a Methodist minister, and attended Lincoln University, the country’s first degree-granting historically Black college and university, during the civil rights movement.

“It was an intellectual microcosm of everyone being focused on civil rights and liberation,” he said.

After receiving his bachelor’s in economics in 1966, at the advice of a professor, Franklin applied to Balliol College at University of Oxford, where he earned a bachelor’s of philosophy in economics in 1970.

He returned to Baltimore and worked in the governor’s office before following his girlfriend to Philly, where she was pursuing her master’s in psychology at Temple University.

“I couldn’t find a job so I went to visit Martin Meyerson, who was the president of University of Pennsylvania,” Franklin said. “In those days you could call up and make an appointment.”

Meyerson, who knew three of Franklin’s tutors at Oxford, hired him, first to work in community affairs and then as an assistant to the president.

While at Penn, Franklin created the first Philadelphia Black Film Festival in 1972, which caught the eye of W. Wilson Goode Sr., who appointed Franklin as deputy city representative for arts and culture when he became Philly’s first Black mayor in 1984.

Franklin held that position for five years and then entered the financial world, starting as an analyst and working his way up. He was a senior vice president for Fidelity Investments in 1993, when he met Nelson Mandela, who came to Philadelphia to receive the Liberty Medal.

Inspired by Mandela, Franklin created his own firm, Reinvest in South Africa. He went on to head International House Philadelphia and serve as vice chairman for a financial services digital design firm. Today, he’s a senior adviser to companies and banks in the U.S. and U.K.

In 1998, Franklin was appointed as the third Honorary British Consul for Greater Philadelphia.

“If you’re going to be honorary consul, you can’t just walk around saying ‘Hey I’m representing the crown,’” Franklin said. “People say ‘What are you doing?’ and what they mean is ‘What are you doing for the community?’”

Franklin is most proud of taking Philadelphia high school students to Britain and bringing the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award program for youth to Philly, where it’s administered by the Philadelphia Outward Bound School.

In 2007, Franklin hosted King Charles III and Camilla, the queen consort, when they visited Philadelphia.

“The first thing we did was march them into Independence Hall,” Franklin said. “As we were marching up, the king looked at me and said ‘Is this the building?’ and I said ‘Yes sir, this is where it all began.’”

And when Franklin took the then Prince of Wales to a community center in Powelton, His Majesty got a taste of Philly.

“People in Philly are very real. One guy said ‘The Prince of Wales, isn’t that the Duke of Earl?’” Franklin said. “We all had a great laugh because he said ‘No, that’s the other guy.’”

Franklin equally enjoys the quieter moments working with everyday people. Recently, a Philly shoe collector was convinced she had a pair that had belonged to Queen Victoria. She visited Franklin and he took a photo and sent it to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

“They said ‘We can’t be sure until we see them, but there’s a possibility,’” Franklin said. “And she was so happy.”

Franklin, who’s been married for four decades to Patricia Mikols, that girlfriend he followed to Philly, has one son and a 2-year-old granddaughter.

He recently created a proposal to explore how his alma mater, Oxford’s Balliol College (which named him an honorary fellow in 2019), benefited from the transatlantic slave trade.

“If academia can look at its relationship to the slave trade, it may give other institutions, like finance and trading, the confidence to look at their own institutions,” he said.

Following the murder of George Floyd, Franklin’s proposal gained traction. Balliol created an exhibit about its connections to slavery and produced a film called Slavery in the Age of Revolution.

Franklin also formed a professional development program between Balliol and the Museum of the American Revolution to help educators in the U.S. and U.K. teach the impact of the transatlantic slave trade.

Adrienne Whaley, director of education and community engagement for the museum, called Franklin a “great connector of people” who “values truth and historical honesty.”

“It’s rooted within him…He was a young Black man who was in this area when important things were happening in the civil rights movement and he had this opportunity to go abroad and have this different set of experiences” she said. “It gives him this really valuable dual perspective that allows him to speak truth in a variety of ways.”

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Know someone in the Philadelphia area whose story deserves to be told — or someone whose story you’d like to know? Send suggestions for We the People profiles to Stephanie Farr at or call her at 215-854-4225. Send tips via Twitter to @FarFarrAway.


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