African American News and Genealogy

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Thursday, January 05, 2006

Maxwell, 100, exemplified achievement, graciousness

Posted: Dec. 7, 2005 For all her firsts - including serving as the first black president of both the Milwaukee Public Library Board and the YWCA - Hazel Maxwell did not find that cause for celebration. "You know, while I am very proud of all these things, I don't like being first for two reasons," she once explained in her soft-spoken way. "One, to which I object the most, is that by being the first woman and black it is like saying up to now there hasn't been one of us competent for the job. And that's wrong. "The other reason is that if it's taken this long for someone to reach it, it's taken too long," Maxwell firmly declared. "It's a double-edged thing and it's negative more than positive. I take pride in that there was some confidence in me. If I was the 10th, I wouldn't be any less proud, though." Maxwell died of natural causes Sunday at the Milwaukee Jewish Home. She celebrated her 100th birthday on Oct. 30. "She was a very unusual and very lovely person," said her daughter, Anna Diggs Taylor, a federal judge with the Eastern District of Michigan in Detroit. "She amazed me forever." "She booked all the parties and danced until midnight, just like Mattiebelle Woods - they were friends," said grandson Tony Rhodes, speaking of journalist Woods, who died early this year at the age of 102. "My grandmother kept dancing until 98, when she broke her hip." The former Hazel Bramlette was born and raised in Chicago. "She was from a large family, and her mother had three sets of twins," Maxwell's daughter said. Hazel and her sister Helen were one set. Maxwell earned a teaching certificate before marrying her first husband, Virginius D. Johnston, in 1929. He became treasurer at Howard University in Washington, D.C., and that was where they raised two children. She also earned a bachelor's degree in education from Howard University, teaching business and math courses for 13 years at a junior high school in Washington, D.C. "I had 52 girls in my first class," she recalled, speaking in a 1977 interview. "The schools for blacks were so crowded then. The school I taught in was built for 1,200 kids, but we had 1,800. The school for whites - which was just three blocks away - was built for 1,500 and had 800 children in it." The Johnstons decided to send their own children away to better schools. Their son, Lowell Johnston, also became a lawyer and now works in New York. After the death of her husband in 1955, friends decided that she needed a new husband, beginning a nationwide search for the right man. The result was that John W. Maxwell, a doctor who was recently widowed in Milwaukee, came to Washington to meet her. It was a good match.


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