Arabelle Bryant never tried to count how many lives she impacted. She didn’t have time; more people who needed her.
For nearly three-quarters of a century, the teacher and librarian poured her heart into New Bern, devoting her life to service and to her community.
Born in 1922 in the small Edgecombe County community of Heartsease, Bryant moved to New Bern in 1944 with her first husband, Leon Mizell, who was to be the new band director at West Street Graded School, the first black high school in town.
Bryant had graduated from N.C. Central University with a degree in mathematics and secured a position as a math teacher and librarian. The daughter of educators, she quickly recognized another need and began teaching mathematics to veterans at night so they could further their education.
After the sudden death of Mizell, in 1946, she continued at West Street until transferring in 1951 to J.T. Barber High School, where she was the school’s first librarian. She held that position until her retirement in 1980.
Bryant’s commitment to service at Ebenezer Presbyterian Church was even longer. As an ordained elder for over fifty years, she was a member of the church’s Session, and served as treasurer of benevolence, youth advisor, Sunday school teacher, chair of the audit committee, senior choir member, and started a Presbyterian women’s organization for the church. In October 2015, Bryant’s fundraising efforts resulted in a historical marker commemorating the original church on Pasteur Street, which burned in The Great Fire of 1922.
Bryant helped the Religious Community Service (RCS) group launch a small soup kitchen, which outgrew the church’s basement and moved into its own building.
“Every time the doors were open at Ebenezer Presbyterian, and as long as her health allowed, she was there,” said her daughter, Matlynn Bryant Yeoman.
Public housing was a priority for Bryant, who had once been a resident at Craven Terrance. She cared deeply about quality and upkeep and worked tirelessly with the Board of Directors of the Housing Authority of New Bern to ensure adequate and safe housing for the underprivileged.
Other organizations which benefitted from Bryant’s active involvement include the New Bern-Craven County Library Board, the Craven County Board of Health, the Coastal Carolina Legacy of Life board, the Henderson Park Senior Citizens, and the Housing Authority of the City of New Bern. Bryant also served as the vice president of the Historic Dryborough Association which sought to recognize and promote the history of important buildings and African-Americans who served the community.
“As an educator you get to see needs, and she came from a family of educators,” said her daughter. “Both of her parents were educators and her sisters and brothers were involved in their community as well. So spending her life working in the community just came naturally to her.”
In 1998, Governor Jim Hunt honored Bryant with the Order of The Long Leaf Pine recognizing her service to North Carolina and its people.
Bryant passed away on July 9, 2018.
By Taylor Miller