Black History—Frances Branham, Dedicated Bruce Street School Teacher

Local histories abound with larger-than-life figures and fascinating tales. Enjoy this personal testimony about Frances Branham who taught at Bruce Street School for years. 
The Living Past

The following testimony came to me by serendipity. In my office at the Arabia Mountain Heritage Area Alliance, I’d stumbled upon a typed testimony about the Bruce Street School’s well-known cook, Ada Anderson. The testimony was so fascinating and personal—told from the perspective of the woman who married Miss Ada’s son Thornton—that I typed the short account up and published it as a Field Note on our website. BUT not before finding out whose account it was. 

After contacting a well-connected Bruce Street School alum, I discovered the story belonged to someone who grew up in Lithonia and still lived there, Frances Anderson. Upon reaching out to Anderson and fact-checking the Field Note with her, she told me she had another story about her grandmother Frances Elizabeth Haygood Branham, who taught at the Bruce Street School for many years and, before that, was principal of the Yellow River School. Anderson asked if I was interested in the story. I said yes and immediately drove over to her house to pick it up. Would you believe Anderson lived just down the road from the Bruce Street School where she graduated in 1950? She handed me a remembrance of her grandmother as well as her obituary, which revealed even more of Branham’s fascinating past. I present both below.

Frances Anderson (second from left) in her 1950 graduating photo from the Bruce Street School.

Remembering A Dedicated Educator

“My grandmother, Frances Elizabeth Haygood Branham, taught at Lithonia Colored School (renamed Bruce Street) until 1943, when she became ill. She was unable to start teaching at the beginning of the 1944 school year and passed away in November of that year. She was well-loved and respected by both the other faculty members and the students, being fondly referred to as “Miss Betty”. She taught me in third grade and, while I was her only grandchild at that time, she showed no favoritism. Because I was her granddaughter, I was held to a higher standard. I had to excel in learning. There were to be no “Bs” on my report cards. I tried hard and I believe that I made her proud. “Mama”, as I called her, was intelligent, loving, stern but fair.

“My father, William E. Branham, Jr. was her youngest living child and our families had homes near to each other. I have pleasant memories of Mama walking me to school every morning. She would be humming as we walked. I was always glad when it rained because my dad would get a taxi to take us to school.

“To cherish her memory, Mama left her husband, Rev. W. E. Branham, Sr., three children – Julia T. Branham Thompson, her only daughter, Emanuel H. Branham and William E. Branham, Jr., my father – and one granddaughter, me. Frances Elizabeth Haygood Branham, a dedicated teacher and my beloved grandmother.

“Precious memories, how they linger.”

Frances Branham on her wedding day.

Frances Branham’s Obituary

“Death took from DeKalb County School System one of its most energetic, prominent, and best-loved teachers and citizens with the passing of Mrs. Frances Haygood Branham, November 24, 1944, at her home in Lithonia, Georgia. She was born of slave parents -the late Emanuel and Lena Haywood in Conyers, Georgia. She was educated at Conyers, later taking extension work at Morris Brown College, Atlanta University and Georgia State College.

“She began her career in the educational fields at the age of seventeen, teaching in DeKalb and surrounding counties. During the years 1927-1928, she was the principal of what was then the Yellow River School, which later became the Lithonia High School. In 1929, she felt she could do better work away from home, so she gave up her principalship to become a teacher at Redan School. In 1937, having advanced in age, she desired to be near home and returned to Lithonia High School, where she remained until her death.

“Mrs. Branham was very modest and it was only in talking with her quietly and in a non-committal way that you would ever discover her greatest interests the welfare and education of the youth of her race. She was always willing to do whatever she found needed to be done.

“In 1908 Mrs. Branham was married to Rev. W. E. Branham, a union to which five children were born. Mrs. Branham has gone to her reward. She is survived by her husband, two sons, and one daughter, a teacher in the DeKalb system.

“They are the brave who stand when

overwhelming forces strike;

They are the staunch whose banners fly

until their last labored breath

Facing the west as the sun sinks low,

gallant to foe and friend alike.

Carry on to the last command, bowing

to the Great Commander, Death.”

Bruce Street School’s Future

In addition to being an architectural gem, the Bruce Street School is a treasure trove of local history. Being the first public school for Black folks in DeKalb County, the school became a community hub where all ages of the African American community intersected. Anderson’s personal history is just one from this school that educated and employed hundreds. Please consider a donation to the Bruce Street School Revitalization, which will transform these schoolhouse ruins into an outdoor museum and amphitheater where students and community members will once again learn.