Celestine S. Braxton, 87, a longtime teacher and civil rights crusader, died Wednesday, Jan. 15, of liver failure at Prince William Medical Center in Manassas, Va.
Mrs. Braxton, mother of NBC10 reporter Monique Braxton, was born on a farm in Ahoskie, N.C. She graduated from C.S. Brown High School in 1944 and earned a bachelor's degree in elementary education in 1949 from Elizabeth City State Teachers College.
She moved to Manassas to accept a teaching job with Prince William County's school system in 1950 and devoted the next 33 years to her elementary and middle school students.
A quiet but effective activist, Mrs. Braxton was part of a second wave of African American teachers to integrate the county's teaching staff.
During a time when African Americans could not attend most Virginia colleges and universities under state law, she pushed to obtain a master's degree in elementary education from George Washington University in the District of Columbia in 1960.
She did postgraduate studies at Catholic University of America, the University of Virginia, and Virginia State College. In 1953, she married Carroll W. Braxton of Manassas. The couple had two children, Monique and Robert D., who died in 1985.
In the early 1960s, when schools were still segregated, Mrs. Braxton filed a formal complaint pushing for Manassas schools, restaurants, and beauty salons to accept African Americans. She especially did not want her daughter attending a segregated kindergarten.
Because of Mrs. Braxton's tenacity, Monique was the first African American kindergartner accepted by Manassas Presbyterian Church.
"All I remember was my dad taking me to school the first day and staying for a little while. I didn't know," her daughter said. "I didn't know until I read her papers."
Mrs. Braxton's push for civil rights took place against the backdrop of a ban on activism for teachers. She could have been fired, her daughter said. Yet Mrs. Braxton joined the Fairfax County Human Relations Committee, the NAACP, and the Manassas Biracial Committee.
Mrs. Braxton was determined to open the doors of all establishments in Prince William County to African Americans. In her journal, she recalled making test visits to a local restaurant and beauty salon to request service in the early 1960s.
At the restaurant, she and her principal, Russell Fincham, were ignored initially. Then they were given a handwritten menu: $55 for a roast beef dinner, $45 for a chicken dinner, and $2 for a cup of coffee.
"They ordered coffee, paid by check, then stopped payment on the check," she wrote in the journal.
Mrs. Braxton also wrote how she visited Cut & Curl Beauty Salon with fellow teacher Lillian Porter. When refused service, the two sent a letter to the salon's corporate headquarters in New York. On the next visit, they were welcomed. Soon after, area businesses and beauty parlors were opened to African Americans.
The most telling part of Mrs. Braxton's activism was that she never spoke of it. Relatives and friends learned about her crusading recently by reading her journal and papers.
After retiring in 1983, Mrs. Braxton did church work and enjoyed bowling. In 2001, after grandson Shane Robert Braxton Fordham was born, she spent two years commuting to Philadelphia each week to babysit for him.
Surviving, besides her husband of 60 years, daughter, and grandson, are two sisters, a brother, and nieces and nephews.
Services will be at noon Saturday, Jan. 25, at First Baptist Church, 9258 Center St., Manassas. A viewing starts at 9:30 a.m. Interment is in Rose Hill Cemetery, Manassas.