Article from North Brunswick Magazine
It was the mid-1960’s when Judge Wanda Bryant, a fourth-grader at the time, changed history. She switched schools. Bryant was part of a small group of African American students selected to be the very first to integrate into the all-white segment of the Brunswick County Public school system.
“I knew integration was historic because we had prayer meetings at church about it, but I didn’t realize the impact it would have on my life until years later,” Judge Bryant said.
She was chosen for her superior academics and her clothes, all handmade by her mother.
“They wanted to make sure the first wave was presentable. My mom sewed. She always had me in cute little dresses,” she said.
Bryant was placed at Shallotte Elementary School.
“There was a lot of name calling and pushing and shoving. Often during recess, a group of white girls my age would literally surround me on the playground to keep the boys from being nasty to me,” remembers Bryant.
Little did she know around the same time, 1967 to be exact, the North Carolina Court of Appeals was being formed where equal justice for all North Carolinians would be upheld and where Judge Wanda Bryant would one day sit and preside.
“I’m so grateful…I have so much gratitude for the people in my life who have brought me to this point to make me who I am,” she said.
Bryant is a Duke grad who met her husband in law school at NC Central and then became a litigator. In preparing a speech for Black History Month, Bryant began to think about getting to the bench.
“I realized the impact of my desire for justice and how much being one of the first to integrate was on my shoulders,” she said.
Appointed to the NC Appellate Court in 2001 by then NC Governor Mike Easley, voters later elected her to remain. Judge Bryant is now in the middle of serving her second eight-year term totaling 16 years on the bench and more than 1,500 opinions written.
This year the NC Court of Appeal marks its 50-year anniversary. In celebration, a first time ever NC Court of Appeals Special Session will be held in Judge Wanda Bryant’s home turf, Brunswick County.
“I’m very excited. I will be the presiding judge of my three-judge panel. It’s the first opportunity to hold a session in Brunswick County,” Bryant said.
The NC Court of Appeals was created in 1967 to assist North Carolina’s Supreme Court. It’s made up of 15 judges who rotate in panels of three hearing all civil and criminal appeals from the superior and district courts with the exception of death penalty cases. Three African American judges preceded Judge Bryant, however she is currently the only African American judge on the NC Court of Appeals.
Bryant writes more than 100 opinions per year and in her spare time, enjoys mentoring young pre-law students. Her advice? Have strong English and writing skills, says Judge Bryant, and always be prepared.
“If you are prepared, in any scenario, you will excel,” she said.
The Brunswick County Special NC Court of Appeals session presided over by Judge Bryant will be held later this year and will be open to the public.