Special Collections & Archives is excited to announce the acquisition of the papers of longtime Religion professor and civil rights activist George McLeod (Mac) Bryan (1920-2010). Our collection, totaling more than 10 linear feet, contains correspondence, course materials, subject files, writings, artifacts, photographs, and other items that document Bryan’s teaching, preaching, and civil rights activism.
Bryan was a double Deacon, graduating from Wake Forest in 1941 with a bachelor’s degree in ministry and in 1944 with a Master’s in education. He went on to receive a B.D. (1947) and Ph.D. (1951) from Yale Divinity School. His first teaching positions were at Mercer College (now University) and Mars Hill, but he joined Wake Forest’s Religion department in 1956 and retired in 1987 as professor emeritus. At Wake Forest, he introduced courses on feminism, religion and science, medical ethics, and black and liberation theology. Bryan supported integration, encouraging his students to participate in February 1960 sit-ins in downtown Winston Salem. Ten Wake Forest students sat alongside eleven students from Winston-Salem State Teachers College (now Winston-Salem State University). Upon returning from a 1960 visit to a few African countries, Bryan encouraged students to establish an African student fund. The African Student Program (ASP) helped fund Ghanian student Ed Reynolds’ studies at Shaw University, and finally Wake Forest once the Board of Trustees gave its approval.
Bryan was a prolific writer. He is best known for his work on and relationships with Clarence Jordan, founder of the Koinonia farm community in Georgia, and Beyers Naudé, a South African minister and leading anti-apartheid activist. Bryan’s many works include Whither Africa? (1961), Naudé, Prophet to South Africa (1978), Dissenter in the Baptist Southland: Fifty Years in the Career of William Wallace Finlator (1986), and These Few Also Paid a Price: Southern Whites Who Fought for Civil Rights (2001). ZSR Library’s holdings of Bryan’s books are listed online here. Bryan also self-published a book entitled Ask Mr. Science (1985) and wrote a few play scripts as well, which are included in the collection materials.
In addition to his academic work and writing, Bryan was active in a number of religious and civil rights organizations and causes. He served on or led the N.C. Human Relations Commission, the N.C. Committee on Civil Rights, the Fellowship of Southern Churchmen, the N.C. Conference of Christian and Jews, Operation Crossroads Africa, and was chairman of the American Friends Service Committee on Integration. During the Cold War, he led a peace mission to Russian and helped organize a Winston-Salem branch of the N.C. Committee to End the [Vietnam] War.
Bryan was married to Edna Bryan (née Johnson), who held an undergraduate degree from Coker College and a Master’s in Education from Mercer College. Edna taught kindergarten in a schoolhouse there, often for faculty members’ children, for 20 years, as well as in local public schools. Together Edna and Mac had four children, all Wake Forest alumni themselves: Katherine (WFU 1971), George (WFU 1972), Andrew (WFU 1975) and Julia (WFU 1982). The Bryan children made the donation of Bryan’s papers possible to Z. Smith Reynolds Library and Wake Forest University, and we are happy to make these materials available for research and use. A collection inventory is being finalized and will be available online shortly.