Freddie Marie Braxton, One Of First Black Teachers In Seattle System

Freddie Marie Braxton was told she couldn't teach when she first applied for a job in the Seattle School District. It was 1944 and racial lines were drawn outside the schoolhouses.

Though she held degrees in economics and education, Mrs. Braxton, an African American, was told she wasn't qualified to teach white children.

So she went to work in the Navy shipyards as a riveter, worked with children at the King County Juvenile Department and helped kids at the YWCA.

Nine years later, when the doors inched open at John Marshall Junior High School, she was one of the first African Americans hired.

"Everyone remembers my mom," said her daughter, Freddie Marie Parker. "Whenever we went shopping, we would end up standing in the aisle talking to her students for hours. It got to the point where I couldn't go shopping with my mother. I never got anything done, we were so busy talking to people."

Mrs. Braxton died May 2 of heart failure at age 69.

A native of Dallas, Mrs. Braxton married her college sweetheart, Robert Braxton, after they graduated from Wiley College. He joined the Navy, which moved the Braxtons to Seattle.

When the school district hired Mrs. Braxton, she was allowed to teach only physical education. Later she transferred to Garfield High School, where she started a summer dance program to teach ballet.

Several of her students went on to become associated with the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater and the Dance Theatre of Harlem. She worked closely with children who had reputations for being difficult.

The mother of three children, Mrs. Braxton became a single parent when she and her husband divorced. Times were rough.

Unable to support her children on a teacher's salary, she moonlighted as a cleaning woman. She couldn't afford a baby-sitter, so her children often accompanied her to work.

Parker remembers helping her mother clean out the ashtrays, while her brother emptied the garbage cans and her sister dusted. Her mother made up games along the way so the night didn't seem so long.

"She worked all kinds of jobs to keep us going. She was tireless," Parker said.

Mrs. Braxton also had a streak of fun. She frequently sent friends and family Easter cards with Christmas greetings for their birthdays. She loved clothes, and dyed her hair whatever color she felt appropriate for the moment - sometimes it was blond, sometimes red. It was rarely black, her natural color.

She was not the kind of mother who liked cooking or baking, Parker said.

"My mother didn't cook. The only things I ever saw her make were Kool-Aid and bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches. She either made us BLTs or nothing at all," Parker said.

She was the kind of mother who was a buddy. Parker says, "I used to go to dances where my mother was chaperone and I would think, `Yeah, that's my mom. But that's my mom, my friend.' She was fun," Parker said.

Besides Parker, Mrs. Braxton is survived by her son, Robert William Braxton, and daughter Dorothy Louise Logan, several grandchildren, and a sister, Dorothy Johnson of Bothell.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. today at the Mount Zion Baptist Church.

Contributions can be made to the Mable L. Harris Scholarship Fund at Mount Zion. Mrs. Harris, a longtime Mount Zion member who died in December 1991, was Mrs. Braxton's mother.