Dr. George McLeod “Mac” Bryan, (1920-2010) was born in Garner, NC and was ordained to the Baptist ministry at seventeen. He attended Mars Hill and graduated from Wake Forest College, after which he took a Bachelor of Divinity and Ph.D. in Religion at Yale University.
He taught at Meadows High School near Benson and also taught at Mars Hill College, Mercer University, Washington and Lee in Saint Louis, Davidson College, Stellenbosch University in South Africa, and Rüschlikan, Switzerland.
Coming back to Wake Forest in 1956, Professor Bryan taught Christian Ethics in the Department of Religion for 37 years, introducing the school’s first courses on feminism, religion and science, medical ethics, and black and liberation theology.
In 1959, Bryan made his first of fourteen trips to Africa, where he developed enduring faith in and strong support for the struggle for liberation from colonial powers in Africa. His relationship to that struggle and those who led it shaped his life and, in turn, those related to him and the institutions within which he worked. He surveyed, for the Danforth Foundation the study of religion in African universities and became the East African Supervisor of Operation Crossroads Africa—an exchange program that facilitated relationships between young people in Africa and North America. President Kennedy called it a progenitor of the Peace Corps. Dr. Bryan persuaded Wake Forest and the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation of Winston-Salem to help fund the initiative. With a letter of introduction by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr—a friend and colleagues since 1954—he met and became friends with several of the new and courageous leaders of that continent. He wrote a biography of Beyers Naudé, an Afrikaner pastor who renounced his ordination by the Dutch Reformed Church because of its support of Apartheid. Naudé was placed under house arrest for seven years. Bryan’s book called international attention to the mistreatment of this influential opponent of South Africa’s Apartheid system, likely saving Naude’s life. When Apartheid crumbled, Naudé was the only Afikaaner the African National Congress trusted to negotiate with the old regime for a new constitution.
Following a strong belief in justice for all in the spirit of the Old Testament prophets and Jesus, Professor Bryan fought tirelessly for civil rights throughout the South helping to integrate several institutions, including Wake Forest College in 1962. Upon returning from a visit to Africa in 1960, Professor Bryan addressed Wake Forest students and encouraged them to establish an African student fund. He encouraged Edwards Reynolds, a young student from Ghana with ties to Baptist missions there, to apply for admission. The student fund helped pay Reynolds transportation to America. Initially denied admission to Wake Forest, he matriculated at Shaw University. When the Wake Forest trustees decided to desegregate in 1962, Reynolds became its first black student. Bryan mentored ten Wake students who, in 1960, sat in and were arrested with Winston-Salem State students at the Woolworth lunch counter in downtown Winston-Salem. Dr. Bryan’s initiatives were not always well received by his faculty colleagues or the administrators. There were times he paid a price, as did his family, from other members of the community. He was, though, faithful in season and out.
Dr. Bryan served on or led the North Carolina Human Relations Commission, the N.C. Committee on Civil Rights, the Fellowship of Southern Churchmen , NC Conference of Christian and Jews, and was Chairman of the American Friends Service Committee on Integration. Further, during the Cold War, he lead a peace mission to Russian and organized a Winston-Salem branch of the NC Committee to End the [Vietnam] War.
He also wrote thirteen books about religion, spirituality and social issues, including In His Likeness (1959) Whither Africa (1961), Voices in the Wilderness (1999), and These Few Also Paid a Price (2001).
Finally, Dr. Bryan taught generations of students who have gone on to found or serve in non-profit and for-profit organizations, serving needs and creating justice all over the world.
In 2006, the Religion Department established the G. McLeod Bryan Pro Humanitate Award for Community Service that recognizes the student “whom the faculty feels exemplifies Dr. Bryan’s passionate commitment to service to others and to the kinds of transformation demanded by justice.” Faculty inspired by Dr. Bryan, recently launched the Religion and Public Engagement Program that includes a Concentration that “facilitates student and community development consistent with internationally accepted standards of human rights and the highest standards of teaching, research, and collaboration.” ( See Recently Graduated/Current Students ) To support the work of the Department’s RPE initiatives, Advancement has launched the G. McLeod Bryan Religion and Public Engagement Fund as a part of the current Capital Campaign.