Bryant, Ira Babington, Jr. (1904–1989)

By: Willie Lee Gay

Type: Biography

Published: November 1, 1994

Updated: September 8, 2020

Ira B. (I. B.) Bryant, Jr., Black teacher, historian, author, and lecturer, son of Ellen (Starks) and Ira B. Bryant, Sr., was born in Crockett, Texas, on October 18, 1904. In 1905 the family moved to Caldwell, where Ira, Sr., became principal of Caldwell Colored High School and Ellen taught. The family moved to Houston in 1920 and I. B., Jr., entered Colored High School. There the principal, James D. Ryan, insisted that he give himself a name for his middle initial. Bryant chose the name Babington, after Thomas Babington McCaulay, whom he had been studying in English literature. After his mother died and his father remarried and moved to Alabama, Bryant and his two brothers were left in Houston to complete their education. He graduated from high school in January 1924 and worked on a ship to provide money for college as well as an opportunity to travel. During the fall of 1924 he entered Fisk University in Tennessee, where he graduated with a B.A. in 1928. He then completed an M.A. from the University of Kansas in 1934 and an Ed.D. from the University of Southern California in 1948. He attended postdoctoral summer workshops at Harvard, Rutgers, Michigan, Washington, and Stanford.

In 1929 Bryant became a social science teacher at Phillis Wheatley High School in Houston. He began advocating the inclusion of the study of Black history in the curriculum of Texas public schools. His efforts to preserve "authentic records" of Black history began as early as 1935, when he published The Development of the Houston Negro Schools. This book is now rare and in demand by historians researching Houston's Black history. In 1936, during the Texas Centennial, he wrote a "Study Guide of Negro History" to be used in the Houston public schools. He published two paperback books: The Texas Negro Under Six Flags (1936) and the Negro Church in Houston, Its Past, Present and Future (1935). Bryant taught the techniques and provided opportunities for his students to become involved in research projects. One project in particular was a survey by his eleventh-grade civics class at Phillis Wheatley on conditions of Negro housing in the community. The results were printed and bound by the school in 1936. In 1938 Bryant became principal of Booker T. Washington High School (formerly Colored High School), where he remained until 1957. Then he was reassigned as principal at the new Kashmere Gardens High School until 1968, when he resigned. During his principalship he focused on educational leadership and increased new teaching skills among his teachers.

Bryant took an early retirement from the Houston Independent School District in 1968 and taught at Dillard University in New Orleans, Louisiana, as a professor of education for two years. He also served as a director of educational workshops there and served as a part-time instructor at Bishop, Prairie View, and Houston College for Negroes, the forerunner of Texas Southern University. In 1948 he was dean of students and professor of education at Texas State University for Negroes. He was also professor of education and director of workshops of Texas Southern University summer sessions from 1949 through 1955. He served for forty years as a part-time instructor at colleges.

Through his articles for workshops, educational journals, and newspapers, Bryant focused on the inadequacy of educational provisions and health problems in the Black community. He also wrote on secondary principals, supervision, instruction, team teaching, Fisk alumni, and sit-ins. His writing skills, his professionalism as a teacher, his expertise in academic research, his continuous efforts to preserve the Black heritage, and his courage to raise his voice against social injustices put Bryant in demand as a lecturer and public speaker. In 1963, when he was one of four speakers at a conference on the "Present Employment Picture" held at Rice University, his opinions on the weaknesses of the vocational program for Black students in the Houston public school caused criticism.

Bryant resigned from his professorship at Dillard University in 1970 and returned to Houston. He again taught at Texas Southern University as a part-time instructor, then decided to finalize his retirement and devoted his time to writing three books: Texas Southern University, Its Antecedents, Political Origin and Future (1975); Barbara Charline Jordan–From the Ghetto to the Capitol (1977), the best biography of Barbara Jordan written during that time; and Andrew Young–Mr. Ambassador (1979), a documented narrative.

He served on the Houston board of directors for the NAACP during the Smith v. Allwright case (1942–44), in which the decision granted Blacks the right to vote in primary elections. Bryant was a board member of the Citizens Chamber of Commerce and a trustee of Good Hope Baptist Church. In 1957 he was named Houston chairman of the United Negro College Fund. He was a president of the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools and of the Fisk University General Alumni Association. In 1966 he became a trustee at Fisk University. As a life member of the National Education Association, he represented the organization at a World Conference on Education in Alsilomar, California, March 5–14, 1970. Two years later he was selected as a delegate to attend the World Council of Organizations of the Teaching Profession in London, England. During his retirement years he was active in the Harris County Retired Teachers Association and was appointed to the Legislative Committee of the Texas State Retired Teachers.

Bryant received numerous awards for service to education, religion, and the community. He was inducted into the Alpha Epsilon Chapter of Phi Delta Kappa at the University of Southern California as the first Black member in June 1946 and served as the first Black jury foreman in the 208th District of Harris County in January 1974. For fifty-seven years Bryant was married to Thelma Scott Bryant, the niece of Emmett J. Scott. They had no children. Bryant's health began to decline rapidly around 1984, and he died at home on December 16, 1989. A Texas Southern University Scholarship Fund, the Bryant-Johnson Fund, was established by B. A. Turner in 1990.

Ira B. Bryant Collection, Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Houston Public Library. Who's Who in the South and Southwest, Vol. 8.

  • Education
  • Educators
  • Teacher Education
  • School Principals and Superintendents
  • Peoples
  • African Americans
Time Periods:
  • Texas in the 1920s
  • Great Depression
  • Texas Post World War II
  • Houston
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • East Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Willie Lee Gay, “Bryant, Ira Babington, Jr.,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 22, 2022,

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November 1, 1994
September 8, 2020

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