Robert Kelly Bryant Jr. was born and grew up in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. However, his roots in Durham stretch back before his birth, as his great-grandmother, Margaret Ruffin Faucette, was one of the founders of White Rock Baptist Church, where Bryant was baptized in 1925. His grandfather, Robert Poole, was a bricklayer in Durham and worked on buildings such as Watts Hospital, old Stokes Hall auditorium, and several tobacco warehouses on Main Street.
Bryant attended Booker T. Washington High School in Rocky Mount and graduated from Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia, in 1940 with a bachelor of science degree in business administration, majoring in accounting. Following graduation, he moved to Durham to work as the bookkeeper for Mutual Saving and Loan Association and in 1944, started at the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, where he worked until retiring in 1981.
As impressive as his successful professional career are Bryant’s accomplishments within the Durham community. He has been secretary of the Durham Business and Professional Chain (1943-1992), trustee at White Rock Baptist Church (1945-2000), secretary/treasurer for the Black Solidarity Committee for Community Improvement (1968), charter member of the Durham Human Relations Commission (1968-1976), scoutmaster (1951-1988), life-long NAACP member, and currentchairman of the Friends of Geer Cemetery.
Bryant was also very active in the Masonic community. He was the first worshipful master of Alexander Sterling Hunter Lodge No. 825 F&AM, Durham, and served as secretary of the lodge from 1963-1981. He was a member of the executive committee of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of North Carolina and Jurisdiction from 1976-1998. As a grand lodge officer, he served 18 years as the right worshipful grand secretary, worshipful grand benevolent secretary, worshipful grand committee of foreign correspondence, and chairman of several grand lodge committees from October 1981 to October 1998. In 2010 he was appointed honorary past grand master.
Bryant has received numerous awards throughout his lifetime for his contributions to the Durham community, including having the pedestrian bridge across the Durham Freeway connecting Lakeland Street named for him. Some of the many other other awards and honors received include a certificate of acknowledgment and congratulations for his many activities from the North Carolina House of Representatives in October 2007, NAACP “Freedom Fund Dinner Award” in 1987, Silver Beaver Award from the Boy Scouts of America for “Distinguished Service to Boyhood” in 1953, White Rock Baptist Church’s 2007 “Men on a Mission” ‘Growing as a Mature Christian’ award, and an “Appreciation for Service Award” presented by the National Hampton Alumni Association in 1979.
Bryant was quoted in a Durham News article in 2006 after being the first black recipient of the Barlett Durham Award, the Historic Preservation Society of Durham’s highest honor, that, “I didn’t have a whole lot of money, but I did have service I could give.” Durham has clearly benefited from Bryant’s unending service to the city, as the naming resolution passed by the city of Durham for the pedestrian bridge noted: “Rather than just sit around and tell younger people how things used to be done or share stories, Mr. Bryant rolls up his sleeves and offers real work.”