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Ann Arbor 200

Clifford Bryant's Namesake: Bryant Elementary School


Clifford E. Bryant
Clifford E. Bryant, Ann Arbor News, October 1973

On Sunday, October 28, 1973, Superintendent Dr. Harry Howard led the dedication ceremonies for Ann Arbor's newest public school building, Bryant Community Elementary School. It was named after Clifford E. Bryant, a retired custodian who had worked in the Ann Arbor Public Schools for 25 years. With schools named after numerous educators, local businessmen, a city founder, and even Martin Luther King, it may have seemed unusual for a school to be named after a maintenance man. But, as Ann Arbor administrator Emerson Powrie stated in the ceremony, Bryant was not an ordinary custodian.


Early Life

Clifford Eugene Bryant was born August 19, 1906 in Nowata, Oklahoma to James & Florence (Washington) Bryant. He was raised in the small town of Perry, Kansas, where the population was less than 500 residents. In 1929, Clifford enlisted in the army and spent time at nearby Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, as well as Fort Benning in Georgia. After his first stint in the army, he was interested in the prospect of available jobs in the Detroit area and moved to Michigan.


Back in Kansas, Clifford had worked as a cement finisher in the university town of Lawrence, and was drawn to the similar university town feel of Ann Arbor. He found work as a houseman at the lavish estate of Harry Boyd Earhart, on the outskirts of Ann Arbor. Living with Laurin Hunter (Earhart's nephew) and family, he functioned as a butler, a chauffeur, and a doorman. As Clifford explained in an interview, he once got caught doing all three jobs when he drove some visitors to the Hunter house, let them in, and served them lunch, all while wearing different coats. "I changed so fast I startled the guests, and we all had a good laugh."

As Delia Hunter (Laurin's wife) explained, "Before he was in the schools or in the war, Clifford was with us in the country. Beside being "chauffeur, butler, and doorman," he was an excellent chef and an experienced football and baseball coach to our two boys. In spite of his many jobs he was through his day's work, immaculately dressed, and in his sedan by 7:45 - off to call on his future wife." The future wife mentioned was Hildreth (Clifton), a native of Mississippi who worked as a live-in maid for the family of businessman Neil Gustine. Clifford and Hildreth married before he re-enlisted in the army and was sent overseas to serve in World War II.

Ann Arbor Public Schools

On October 12, 1945, Corporal Clifford Bryant was discharged from the army and returned to Ann Arbor. He had served in both the Italian Campaign and the North African Campaign of World War II. In 1946 he found work as a custodian at Ann Arbor High School, becoming one of the first black employees hired by the Board of Education. This would be the start of Clifford's 25-year career with the Ann Arbor Public Schools, from Ann Arbor High to Pioneer High to Dicken Elementary. That same year, 1946, Clifford and Hildreth purchased a home at 903 Plum Street, where they would eventually raise four children.

Waxing The Floors In Ann Arbor High School
Clifford Bryant Waxes Ann Arbor High School Floors With His Coworkers, Ann Arbor News, August 1947

In the public school system, Clifford gained a reputation for his attention to detail. "He keeps the school spotless," declared Joanna Cornett, Dicken Elementary, Special Education. Jean Henne, former Dicken principal who worked with Clifford in her building, said "We had a pretty good academic record, but whenever anyone mentioned Dicken, it was 'the clean school'." Clifford was also known to have a special interest in the welfare of the community within his buildings. Teachers and students alike turned to Clifford Bryant for friendship and support. "I try to encourage kids who feel lost" he once stated in an interview. When he encountered a teen with behavioral problems at the high school, Clifford intervened and got him involved with sports. "Today that boy has a family and works as a plasterer - following in his dad's footsteps" said Clifford, who built relationships that went beyond the walls of the buildings he supported.

Woodrow Shelton, head of the custodian's union, described Clifford as an excellent worker and a good influence on everyone he met. "We had a hard time keeping him away from his building when he was supposed to be on vacation, and he never asked for overtime." When Clifford moved to Pioneer High School, he and another custodian were responsible for the entire building. "One of the things everyone remembered about Clifford was that his co-worker was in poor health and Clifford would do his own work and the other man's also." When he announced his retirement in 1971, a Dicken secretary lamented "He's done so much for us and we're going to miss him so much we won't know what to do when he's gone."

Clifford Bryant Vacuums A Heating Vent
Clifford Bryant Vacuums A Heating Vent At Dicken Elementary School, Ann Arbor News, August 1964

Clifford Bryant retired from Dicken Elementary School at the end of the 1970-71 school year. Ann Arbor's Board of Education recognized him for having served "our school system with great loyalty and distinction." He was honored with a retirement dinner, a watch, a gift certificate, and personal congratulations from teachers, parents, and friends. One notable message came from Congressman Marvin L. Esch, who sent Clifford a flag and a letter. "The entire Esch family wants to take this opportunity to express our deep appreciation to the contribution you have made throughout the years to Dicken School. All three of our young people, Emily, Leo and Tom, remember so well attending Dicken. At this juncture of a young student's life it is meaningful to have some adult show the interest and cooperation you have."

Clifford Bryant Receives A Watch
Clifford Bryant Receives A Watch As A Retirement Gift, Ann Arbor News, June 1971

Bryant Community Elementary School

In August of 1972 it was announced that a special school naming committee had selected three retired Ann Arbor Public Schools employees to honor with new buildings: George Balas, Harold Logan, and Clifford Bryant. George Balas had been a high school teacher, as well as business manager and secretary of the Board of Education. Harold Logan started his career as a teacher in the district, became principal of Slauson School, and was named the national Secondary Principal of the Year during his tenure. Besides Martin Luther King, Ann Arbor had not named any of their buildings for people of color until Clifford Bryant. When the Ann Arbor News contacted him for a reaction, he reportedly said "This is just impossible" and "This is a wonderful honor". Emerson Powrie, assistant superintendent for operations, and one of the principals Bryant served under said, "I'm very pleased that the board has recognized that faction of the school community that is so often overlooked. Cliff was a very dedicated employe and deserves such an honor." Located at 2150 Santa Rosa Drive, Bryant's future building was known as Southeast Elementary School while under construction.

Opening Day Of Bryant Elementary School
Opening Day Of Bryant Community Elementary School, Ann Arbor News, September 1973

When the new building opened to students in September 1973, Clifford was invited to visit. He was given a tour conducted by his cousin, Jarel Bryant, head custodian of the new school. "It's a lovely school, a real nice place" was his reaction. He especially liked a covered area on the playground that would protect children from bad weather. On Sunday, October 28, 1973, Superintendent Dr. Harry Howard led the dedication ceremonies for Bryant Community Elementary School. The parent and teacher planning committee for the new building had specifically requested that the word "community" be part of the official school title, reflecting the atmosphere that Clifford Bryant had helped to foster when he worked in the school system.

Five years later, in October 1978, Clifford Eugene Bryant died at the age of 72. Hayward Richardson, the first principal of Bryant Community Elementary School, revealed that "Even though Clifford was retired, he used to come by the school. Without coming into the office, he would spend time talking with the children..." Clifford truly enjoyed the school environment, and took a great deal of interest in the health and welfare of the students at "his" school. He was survived by his wife, four siblings, four children, two grandchildren, and countless members of the Ann Arbor Public Schools community that he had befriended and mentored over the years. Hildreth, his wife, died in 1981. They now rest together in United Memorial Gardens. Though it has gone through several renovations and much change over the last 50 years, Bryant Community Elementary School still carries Clifford Bryant's legacy of loyalty and kindness in the Ann Arbor School District.


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Contract Signed For New Labor Union At King-Seeley Corp, November 1951

Contract Signed For New Labor Union At King-Seeley Corp, November 1951 image
Published In:
Ann Arbor News, November 8, 1951
Representatives of King-Seeley Corp. and the UAW-CIO yesterday signed the first union contract ever negotiated for workers at the K-S Ann Arbor and Scio plants. Present at the formal signing ceremony were (seated) A. Neil Gustine, K-S president; Webb A. Magnor, UAW-CIO international representative; and (standing, left to right) Edward Hamel (union), Royal Baker (union), R. W. Berkeley (company), W. W. Lewis (company), John Taylor (company), Arthur Berarducci (union), Lilian Tinsley (union), Oliver Johnson (union), Luella Mueller (union), William Flowers (union), Margaret Young (union), William Young (union) and William Hatchett (union).