Anne Thomas Braxton was a soft-spoken woman with keen analytical skills and a talent for mediation, attributes that friends and family say served her well as an educator and a crusader for social justice.
The first director of the Oak Park Preschool, and a former counselor and high school vice principal in the Sacramento Unified School District, Braxton died at her Sacramento home Aug. 9, just a few weeks before her 97th birthday. She had been in hospice care for renal failure, said her daughter Rosemary Braxton.
“Anyone who knew Anne never heard her raise her voice,” said longtime friend Irene West. “She always had that calm demeanor. She was the epitome of womanhood.”
Braxton exhibited the same demeanor at home, said her daughter.
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“She was always quite composed. Even around the house, she could control her temper,” Rosemary Braxton said. “She never flew off the handle.”
Jim Coons, a former counselor at McClatchy High, said Braxton was his boss for 15 years. She was a very genteel woman, he said, “but she made no bones about what her position was. If she wasn’t happy with what you were doing, she made it known without ever raising her voice.”
Braxton was a role model for women, whom she sought to empower locally and globally, said Nancy Griffith, president of the Zonta Club of Sacramento, the local chapter of Zonta International, an organization that advocates for women’s rights and human rights. Braxton was an active member who helped establish a program in the local club that awards scholarships annually to girls at McClatchy High School. At age 83, she was a delegate to the organization’s international conference in Gothenburg, Sweden.
Braxton also was a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, which founded the Oak Park Preschool in the mid-1960s. She volunteered as the school’s first director the summer it opened and later served on its board of directors.
Braxton was born Aug. 26, 1919, to Nell Mitchell and Jesse O. Thomas in Marshall, Texas. She grew up in Atlanta. The city, her daughter noted, was a Mecca for college-educated African Americans like Anne Braxton’s parents, who were graduates of Tuskeegee Institute in Alabama.
Anne Braxton attended Oglethorpe Elementary and the Atlanta University Laboratory Schools, before entering Spelman College at age 16.
“She was very young when she went to college, and when she graduated she didn’t know what she wanted to do,” Rosemary Braxton said. “Then she heard about this profession (counseling) that helped people decide what they wanted to do.”
About the same time, the executive secretary of the National Urban League, headquartered in New York City, became ill and Anne Braxton’s father was asked to fill the post on an interim basis. The family moved to New York City and Braxton enrolled at Columbia University, where she earned a master’s degree in pupil personnel administration in 1940.
Anyone who knew Anne never heard her raise her voice. She always had that calm demeanor. She was the epitome of womanhood.
Irene West, longtime friend
During her years at Spelman College she met her future husband, John T. Braxton, a football, basketball and track star at Morris Brown College. They married in May 1941.
In the two decades that followed, their careers took them to colleges throughout the South. In Austin, Texas, John headed the athletics program and Anne became dean of women at Huston-Tillotson College. In the early 1950s, the family moved to Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach , Fla., where Anne served as dean of women and professor of education. Later they moved to Tougaloo, Miss., and Anne became the state’s first African American guidance counselor at Lanier High School in Jackson.
In the early 1960s, they decided to leave the South and move west. “It was part of the great migration,” said Rosemary Braxton.
A family friend, actress Frances Williams, persuaded them to come to Sacramento. Although she lived in Los Angeles, Williams had visited Sacramento and thought the “city of trees” would be more appealing to the Braxtons than Southern California.
Rosemary Braxton said her mother was hired as a counselor at Sacramento High School and her father took a job with the California Youth Authority in Ione. There he met an assistant coach from McClatchy High School, who persuaded the head football coach at McClatchy to hire John Braxton as an assistant football coach.
When Kennedy High School opened, John Braxton became the head track coach there, and Anne Braxton became the vice principal at McClatchy High. Her husband later became vice principal at Kennedy High.
Coons said Anne Braxton nurtured innovation among McClatchy’s counseling staff. Among the programs she and her staff introduced was “Shopping for College,” a week of classes and field trips for juniors designed to help them prepare for college. Sessions covered such topics as the College Board tests, and they visited University of the Pacific, UC Davis, UC Berkeley and California State University, Sacramento.
They also pioneered an “open enrollment” program in the 1970s, in which McClatchy students had an opportunity to sign up with the teachers they wanted for their various classes.
Coons said Braxton also presided over behavioral and attendance hearings for students. She helped parents become better disciplinarians, he said, and she gave students a chance to reform.
“But there were no second chances. If they continued to cut school or to get into fights, she had little patience with them,” Coons said. “She was good at tough love.”
Friend Irene West said Braxton was a skilled mediator, recalling that they sat through many group meetings that included heated discussions. Braxton would listen to the various arguments, analyze the pros and cons, and come up with a solution that both sides could accept.
“It was just like magic with her analytical mind and approach to group dynamics,” West said.
West described her friend as a woman of profound Christian faith. Braxton served as a member of the Altar Guild, as a lector and as a member of Christ Care Group at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. She also was a member of the Union of Black Episcopalians and the Episcopal Urban Caucus.
Ann Braxton was preceded in death by her husband of 53 years and a grandson. In addition to daughter Rosemary Braxton of Sacramento, she is survived by daughter Nell Gibson of New York City, foster daughter Gee Tai of Davis and a granddaughter.
A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Sept. 25 at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, 2620 Capitol Ave., Sacramento. For those wishing to remember Braxton, the family suggests donations to Oak Park Preschool, 3500 Second Ave., Sacramento 95817.