Maggie P. Bryant, born in 1915, has weathered a few national emergencies, from the Great Depression to 9/11. When the coronavirus pandemic hit in 2020, she jumped on board with other Americans to do what she could do to fight it.
Although now dutifully at home most days, Bryant is far from idle. She has been working diligently on her family genealogy and history, which stretches as far back as 1865, to the estate of N.C. Supreme Court Justice Thomas Ruffin.
“I started when I was in my 40s getting my information from elderly relatives, and they gave me as much as they could remember,” she said. Confirmation that she descended from Jesse Ruffin, an enslaved man in Hillsborough, N.C., was a particularly rewarding moment. “It gave me closure on my great-great-grandfather,” she said.
Ruffin was a coachman at the judge’s estate and escorted him to Raleigh on Dec. 4, 1865, to ratify the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Among more recent findings was an engraved brick at the coachman’s former home bearing the words “Dec. 5, ’65,” the day the pair likely returned from the historic event.
Bryant grew up with her parents and two brothers, a third died in infancy, in Rocky Mount, N.C., but spent summers and holidays with extended family in Durham, where her mother was born. She earned an academic scholarship to attend NCCU and worked between semesters at her dormitory, Annie Day Shepard Hall.
She earned a double degree, in history and English, and joined the choir.
After graduating, she worked as a librarian and taught civics, English, and history in Creedmoor, N.C. Bryant also continued her education at NCCU, earning a degree in library science in 1943 and a master’s degree in 1957.
In the 1960s, she moved to Kannapolis to accept a job as a full-time librarian at George Washington Carver High School, where she felt the impact of school desegregation. But the memory is not unpleasant.
“We did well with integration of schools in Kannapolis. The community was very supportive.”
She retired from that job in 1982 and moved back to Durham, where members of her family and many friends still reside, though most not in their original homes. Many Black families, including Bryant’s relatives, had to move out of the historically African American Hayti neighborhood to make way for the construction of the Durham Freeway in the early 1970s.
“That was the area I grew up in, and that highway really made a change,” she said. “We had to move from that area. But we are still near NCCU.”
In 1988, Bryant helped organize a reunion for her 1938 graduating class, which became the first class inducted into the Society of Golden Eagles on Founder’s Day that year.
She is amazed at how much Durham and NCCU have expanded through the years. “I’ve seen a lot of progress made,” she said. “The area is growing and getting larger by the day.”
As far as how to manage to live past 100, Bryant would first advise inheriting good genes. “There were long-livers on both sides of my family. I had an aunt who lived until 102 and a cousin who lived to 103. I guess I’ve passed her now.”
She also recommends keeping an active schedule. “Stay active, don’t ever stop, just stay busy,” Bryant said.
“There were long-livers on both sides of my family. I had an aunt who lived until 102 and a cousin lived to 103. I guess I’ve passed her now.”
-Maggie P. Bryant