Skip to main content

President Chopp's Introduction of John Braxton '70

John Braxton, you are a long-time Quaker activist and labor reformer, and founder and co-chair of the Philadelphia Jobs with Justice Coalition. Your long history of advocating for social and economic justice and your tireless efforts to campaign against the proliferation of American military power in the Third World have helped to reshape policies and institutions from the local to the national level.

Raised in the Philadelphia area, the son of two educators, you came to Swarthmore in 1966 at the height of the war in Viet Nam. In the summer following your freshman year, you joined the crew of the Phoenix, a 50-foot Quaker ship that traveled to North and South Vietnam to deliver medical supplies to civilian victims of the U.S. bombings. The voyage to North Vietnam was an act of civil disobedience, as the U.S. government considered the donation of those supplies to be "trading with the enemy."

Upon returning to the campus, you became active in the College's Political Action Club and played a prominent role with the Philadelphia-area Vietnam Moratorium Committee. Although registered as a conscientious objector, you refused to cooperate with the draft board, saying that you would not use your privileged position as a Quaker to accept a deferment when others less fortunate were unable to do so. After graduating in 1970 with a degree in biology, you were arrested for draft evasion and sentenced to federal prison for two-and-one-half years.

After your release from prison, you began studying for an M.S. in environmental studies at Rutgers University and worked part time at UPS, where you became a member of the Teamsters' Union and worked for many years with the Teamsters for a Democratic Union. You helped to reorganize the union, making it more responsive to the individual needs of its members.

Among your many awards for outstanding service to the cause of peace have been the Peace Hero Award from the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors and the Volunteer of the Year Award from Philadelphia Community College, where you are a professor of biology.

John Braxton, you have worked tirelessly as a teacher, peace activist, labor leader and reformer, community organizer, and fervent advocate for social and economic justice. You are a model to all who support the struggle for equal opportunity, fair representation, and social institutions that respond to the needs of the people.

Upon the recommendation of the faculty and by the power vested in me by the Board of Managers of Swarthmore College and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, I have the honor to bestow upon you the degree of Doctor of Laws.

Read John Braxton's address.