Library

A Commitment to Use Engineering as a Good - The Life of Dr. James Braxton, '37

Celebrating Black History Month with a Roundtable Discussion on the Braxton Papers held online on February 22, 2021.

On Monday, February 22, the Library hosted an online roundtable discussion about alumnus Dr. James Braxton, ‘37, who was the second Black student to graduate from Stevens, in celebration of Black History Month.

The roundtable, presented in collaboration with Stevens Diversity Education and Division of Development and Alumni Engagement, delved into Braxton’s life and accomplishments with fascinating archival documents from the newly acquired James Braxton Papers, a collection that has provided further insight into Braxton’s life, career, involvement with the civil rights movement, and his lifelong interest in building affordable housing.

The participants included moderator and recent graduate, DuJaun Kirk ‘20, Leah Loscutoff, Head of Archives and Special Collections, Professor Lindsey Swindall from the College of Arts and Letters, Braxton family members, Mrs. Virginia Braxton (Braxton’s widow) and Emory Brown III (grandnephew), current students and members of the recently formed first Black Fraternity at Stevens, Alpha Phi Alpha, Joshua Hector '22, and Kobe Dawes '21, and alumna, Joelle Hinds ‘93. 

The discussion started off with an overview of Braxton's life by Loscutoff detailing his time at Stevens and then later in his professional life working on housing projects while highlighting letters, newspaper clippings, and pictures from the collection.

Professor Swindall then put his life into historical context during the civil rights movement. She explained Braxton’s life was the fusion of an engineering career and someone “who [was] involved with social justice and “is an example of someone who has used his engineering skills to better society and education.” Pointing to one of Braxton's assertions from October 1960, Swindall quoted him from a proposal: "One of the most pressing problems facing the United States today is the disparity between the treatment of minority groups and democratic ideals which are part of its history."

When asked about what her late husband would want to be remembered for, Virginia Braxton said, "he would want to be remembered as an engineer because for him engineering revolved around anything that was problem-solving. But, he also viewed it as a vocation, by that I mean, the way a doctor views medicine, a minister views . . . . pastoring people, a profound commitment to use engineering for good, constructive purposes that would help people." His grandnephew, Emory Brown III, added, “Uncle James was able to navigate going in between political activism but also basic infrastructure, architectural elements to build communities."

Joelle Hinds ‘93, a certified financial advisor at Morgan Stanley and former STEP program participant, remembers Braxton: “He was a trailblazer” especially with the work he did with the Braxton system and engineering. She also emphasized how alumni need to stay connected, like Braxton, and be able to give back to the Stevens community especially like the STEP program. 

Current students, Kobe Dawes and Joshua Hector, emphasized that Braxton “was able to leverage his education like many of us want to do in the engineering field to make a better world” and that it’s vitally important for the Black community “to know of people like James Braxton and all he accomplished for the world and engineering.”

The lively discussion ended with plans to do more in the future to reconnect Black alumni with current students and use the Archives and Special Collections of the Library to discover the full history of Stevens. Plans for the Braxton Papers include processing the collection, creating finding aids, and digitizing selected items to disseminate online. 

Moderator, DuJaun Kirk ‘20, later concluded, “Thanks again for inviting me to be part of such a powerful event. I definitely feel empowered after the event and I've been hearing amazing feedback from those who were in the audience. It was definitely a much needed conversation, super happy that it happened.”

 

You can view the full round table discussion here:

 

Researchers who are interested in learning more about the Dr. James Braxton Papers collection are invited to reach out to Leah Loscutoff.