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Chessie M. Brailey, civil rights activist

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Chessie M. Brailey, a civil rights activist who had been married to former state legislator F. Troy Brailey, died Dec.16 from complications of dementia at her daughter's Harbor Court condominium.

The former longtime Easterwood Park resident was 94.

"Chessie had a wonderful spirit and was serious about the community and the advancement of African-Americans. She provided tremendous support for her husband," said the Rev. James L. Carter, pastor of East North Avenue's Ark Church and a longtime friend.

"She also projected what she believed in and responded to it," said Mr. Carter. "She was a wonderful lady with a kind and gentle spirit. I always thought her longevity had something to do with her love of humanity."

The daughter of a Domino Sugar worker and a housekeeper, Chessie M. Granger was born in Columbia, Ala., and in the 1920s settled into a home in South Baltimore, across the street from Leadenhall Baptist Church.

She graduated in 1936 from Frederick Douglass High School, and the next year, married F. Troy Brailey, who was working as a Pullman sleeping car porter.

In the early years of her marriage, Mrs. Brailey stayed home to raise the couple's two children.

When her children were older, she studied cosmetology at the Madam C.J. Walker Beauty School and worked in several salons before she opened the Hollywood Beauty Salon in West Baltimore in the early 1950s.

She later worked as a state beauty inspector making sure that beauty salons had up-to-date licenses and that they were in compliance with other regulations.

Mrs. Brailey's civil rights activism coincided with her husband's.

In 1941, he had been a leader in the planned march on Washington that was called off after President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an executive order establishing the Fair Employment Practices Commission.

He also had worked with A. Philip Randolph, founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, as a union organizer, and an adviser to various civil rights groups that were organizing sit-ins at restaurants where they had been refused service.

In 1963, Mr. Brailey was state chairman for the August March on Washington, which featured the Rev. Martin Luther King's historic "I Have a Dream" speech.

He was elected to the House of Delegates in 1966, where he served until defeating the late Verda F. Welcome, Maryland's first black female senator, for the 40th District Senate seat in 1982.

Throughout his political and civil rights activism, Mrs. Brailey was at her husband's side and worked as an aide to him while he served in the House and Senate.

"Chessie and her husband were always in the same boat and she was always right along there with him," said John B. Ferron, a longtime friend who retired in 1996 as director of the Community Relations Commission.

"I must say with her death, Baltimore, Maryland and the world has lost a great person," said Mr. Ferron. "Never did I see her angry. She was always pleasant and a quiet behind-the-scenes activist. She never wanted any publicity."

Mr. Ferron said the Braileys were devoid of any "political arrogance."

"Senator Brailey was a giant who walked with kings, queens and diplomats but he and his wife remained just regular people," said Mr. Ferron. "They sought no particular status and never let popularity affect them. They were just a loving family and emitted to humanity the love they had for each other."

Mr. Brailey died in 1996.

"My mother loved to cook and entertain, and she was known for her short ribs and pound cake," said her daughter, Alice Faye Brailey Torriente, chairwoman of Baltimore City Women for Obama.

Mrs. Brailey and her husband entertained a Who's Who from the world of civil rights, politics, theater and sports at their summer home in Pasadena.

"A. Philip Randolph, E.D. Nixon, Bayard Rustin, Ossie Davis, Jackie Robinson, Lenny Moore and Willie Mays are just some of the people who came to their home," said Ms. Torriente.

"One time, when they were going to New York to see A. Philip Randolph, my mother asked if he wanted her to bring him anything and he said, 'a pound cake,'' said Ms. Torriente.

Mrs. Brailey channeled her political activism through two organizations, the Colored Women's Democratic Club, which had been founded in 1946 and led by city Councilwoman Victorine Q. Adams, and Women Power, which she helped found.

The organizations worked diligently on behalf of African-American candidates elected to office.

Erla M. McKinnon had been active in the organization and along with Mrs. Brailey helped start Women Power.

"I had known Chessie since the 1940s when we were with the Colored Women's Democratic Club. In 1958, we started Women Power, which was a nonpartisan group because not all of the women running for office were Democrats," said Mrs. McKinnon.

"One of her big things was registering voters. She was also a big supporter of our annual membership tea that was held every spring," she said. "And right up until the end, when her health began to fail, she was busy working with our annual leadership conference."

Mrs. McKinnon added: "She liked being in the background because organizations always need people like Chessie who are in there helping to get the job done."

She was also a life member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Mrs. Brailey had been a member for 84 years of Leadenhall Baptist Church, and when the 1873 building was threatened by an extension of Interstate 95, she and her son, Norman Brailey, who died in 2001, sprang into action to save the historic building from destruction.

"The church was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, which thwarted an attempt to displace the church and congregation," said her daughter.

"Always caring, compassionate and concerned about the plight of the less fortunate, her personal ministry was to collect gently used clothing and donating them to various churches and shelters throughout the city," her daughter said.

She was a member of the National Baptist Convention of Baltimore, and was a past worthy matron of the Order of the Eastern Star and a supporter of the United Negro College Fund.

Funeral services will be held at her church, 1021 Leadenhall St., on Tuesday, beginning with the family hour at 10 a.m. followed by services at 10:30 a.m.

In addition to her daughter, Mrs. Brailey is survived by a sister, Katie L. Parker of Baltimore; three grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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