Home>Trailblazer>Trailblazer: Commissioner Horace Bryant, Sr.

Sculptor Jennifer Frudakis with her bust of Horace Bryant, Sr. The bust is on display at the Carnegie Library in Atlantic City. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Fradakis.

Trailblazer: Commissioner Horace Bryant, Sr.

First African American to serve in the govenor’s cabinet

By David Wildstein, January 20 2020 12:46 am

Horace Bryant, Jr.  (1909-1983) was the first African American to serve in the cabinet of a New Jersey governor.  Richard J. Hughes appointed him to serve as commissioner of Banking and Insurance in 1969.

Bryant had spent over 40 years with the Department of Banking and Insurance.  Hughes named him deputy commissioner in 1965.

He started out in Atlantic City politics as a Republican in the 1940s, but became a Democrat after State Sen. Frank Farley, the Atlantic GOP boss, refused to back him.  But when Hughes nominated Bryant in 1969, Farley signed off on him and he won confirmation by the Republican-controlled State Senate.

Bryant was elected Atlantic City Commissioner in 1972, when three of the incumbents – including Mayor Williams Somers — were under indictment.  He finished second in a field of 34 candidates for five seats.  Just one of the indicted incumbents, Arthur Ponzio, was re-elected.

He was re-elected in 1976, but was narrowly defeated for re-election to a third term in 1980.

Bryant’s father, Horace Bryant, Sr., an Atlantic Republican ward leader in the 1920s and 1930s, was the first black to serve as calendar clerk of the New Jersey State Assembly.  Some people think Boardwalk Empire character Chalky White was modeled after Bryant.

His daughter, Lillian Bryant, was an Atlantic County freeholder for fifteen years; his nephew was State Sen. Wayne “Oink” Bryant.

This story was first published on January 21, 2019.

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