Elmore Bryant was the City Of Marianna’s first African-American Mayor but that is just one of Bryant’s many attributes he brings to the table.
Elmore Bryant has been a recognized leader of the African American community in Jackson County for over fifty years. He was an integral part of the transformation from non-integrated schools to integrated schools in the 1960’s. He was a driving force of reason as African-Americans began to take a more active role in county and city governments in Marianna and Jackson County.
Bryant’s intelligent, fair-minded, and sincere approach to dealing with people and problems has helped this community for more years than people can remember with always being the mediator, the problem solver no matter which side was “in the wrong”. Bryant was as quick to correct one side as he was the other.
Bryant was born in 1934 on St. Clair Street, just a few short blocks down the hill from where the old Jackson County jail was located. His mother was Lillie Myrick Bryant and his father was Arthur Bryant, who worked at the peanut mill which was then the central business in Marianna. Arthur Bryant worked at the peanut mill which was then the central business in Marianna
He attended and graduated from Jackson County Training School, and then attended college in St. Augustine at Florida Memorial College. Bryant took a job at St. Paul High School in Campbellton after he received his degree before moving to his alma mater, the Jackson County Training School as a teacher and a coach. Today, Bryant praises the students and athletes who came through JCTS, “We had several outstanding sports teams during those years. We had several championships and several players who made a name for themselves in pro sports.”
Students fondly remember Bryant as both a father figure, a teacher, and a coach. Virgil Clark says of Bryant, “You never had to doubt where you stood with Coach. He was straight up no matter if you messed up on the court, in the classroom or at the house, he would make it a point to set you straight. He didn’t play now but you always knew he was trying to get your attention to walk the right path. I didn’t have a dad in the picture and he let me know straight up that didn’t matter, dad or no dad, I had to do right. He didn’t take no excuses. Always respected him for how he treated everybody the same. Kids come to school in the high dollar high tops didn’t get any more from him than I did with my off-brand shoes.”
Arthur Edmond reiterated much of the same about Bryant, “Coach was one man you didn’t want to lie to about nothing. If you messed up, best thing you could do was go straight to him and tell him right then because he was sure gone find out. That man had more folks looking out for his kids than I ever seen, I mean you couldn’t drop a piece of gum on the sidewalk and get by with it and I mean that was like way before they had cameras and stuff like that. Heck he didn’t need no videos, he was everywhere, him or somebody was anyway. I know this teammate of mine had got a girl in trouble and was saying how it wasn’t his fault it happened and Coach overheard it in the school yard one day and man oh man, he got all up in that boy’s business. But you know, wasn’t a thing he said wasn’t the truth. If you needed something and you was up front with Coach, he’d take care of it but don’t you lie to him because it was gone be bad then. I didn’t always listen to him when I should’ve but I made amends and straightened myself out. One day when I’m back in Marianna I’m gonna go see him, shake his hand and tell him thank you. Two of my kids went to college because of what he taught me.”
Bryant talked of integration of the schools in the early 1960’s. The schools of Marianna were integrated, and Jackson County Training School was closed. Bryant and many other teachers from the school transferred to Marianna High and other area county schools. Bryant married Eulice Thomas and they have now been married almost sixty years. They have two sons, four grandchildren, and three great grands. Bryant’s teaching career spanned forty-one years, and included work at St. Paul High School, Jackson Training School, Marianna High School, Cottondale High School, Golson Elementary School, Marianna Middle School, and he retired from the Washington County School System at Dozier School for Boys. Through his years of teaching, Bryant favorably influenced thousands of Jackson County youth over a span of fifty years. “What I am most proud of is all of the trees I planted,” Elmore says proudly as he relates stories of how he worked with youngsters who later became successful doctors, lawyers, businessmen, and other careers. Not to be outdone by Elmore, his wife Eulice taught for forty-four years, including time at Marianna High School as a guidance counselor where she offered the same voice of reason and influence. This couple taught Jackson County’s children for a combined total of 85 years. During this same time period Bryant was also a successful businessman in the Marianna community. His service station on Orange Street was a Marianna landmark for fifty years. The station was forced to close in 2011 due to new EPA regulations requiring replacement of all storage tanks.
Elmore will quickly tell you that although he is now retired, he hasn’t quit working. “I plan to continue to work with the young people of our county as long as there is breath in me. They need guidance, counseling, and direction from adults, and I plan to help.”
Bryant continues today to be involved with all that goes on in Jackson County and most especially Marianna. Herecently addressed the Marianna City Commission to ask for their consideration with helping the Gilmore Academy and JCTS utilize some of the Marianna Middle School property, the same property where JCTS was before integration. Bryant said of the venture, “Our main purpose is we wanted to have something to show the kids coming along that we did exist one time in Jackson County.” Bryant told of how the land was theirs because it was given by R. T. Gilmore and that Dr. Westbrook (Gayle) did her dissertation on the black school, “We found out that Gilmore gave the land to the school to build a school for the Negroes at that time. The other money came from a gentleman who donated the money, he had worked at Sears, and he saw that Negroes were not having a chance at secondary schools.” Bryant told the history behind the building of the school, the fact that he taught and coached at that school. Bryant said some outstanding people came through that school, “We had Billy Barnes with the Harlem Globetrotters, we had educators, distinguished people in the military.” Bryant said they would like to come up with a Hall of Fame to honor and recognize those who excelled at not only Union Grove, but St. Paul and Jackson County Training School. Bryant said they were requesting five acres of land and a gymnasium. This latest venture is just a sampling of the hours of work and labor Bryant puts in as a ‘retired’ citizen for the benefit of one and all. Once again, Bryant will be ‘teaching’ the youth of today in a different venue with the same message.