Obituary — Bunyan Bryant Jr.


Bunyan Isaiah Bryant Jr., professor emeritus of natural resources and Arthur F. Thurnau Professor Emeritus, died peacefully at home March 28 after a short battle with cancer.  

Born March 6, 1935, Bunyan was the eldest of four children of Bunyan and Christalee Bryant, and his family was always his foundation. He was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, and moved to Flint at age 8. He graduated from Flint Northern High School and in 1958 received a Bachelor of Arts degree in social science from Eastern Michigan University.

A photo of Bunyan Bryant Jr.
Bunyan Bryant Jr.

After being a counselor at the University of Michigan’s Fresh Air Camp, he worked with troubled youth in state and private agencies, mostly in Michigan. He received his Master of Social Work degree in 1965 and Ph.D. in education in 1972 from U-M.

As a graduate student he worked at the Institute for Social Research and later as one of the project directors for the Educational Change Team in the School of Education, focusing on helping students, teachers and administrators develop alternative responses to racial violence and hate permeating the schools in the late 1960s. 

Bunyan’s career and day-to-day life were dedicated to environmental, racial and economic justice and nurturing those around him to join in this mission. In 1972, he joined the faculty of the School of Natural Resources, now the School for Environment and Sustainability, and co-developed an Environmental Advocacy curriculum.

Bryant was a pioneer and founding member of the environmental justice movement. He helped establish the first academic program and curriculum in environmental justice at U-M and was also an important national leader. He co-organized the January 1990 Michigan Conference on Race and the Incidence of Environmental Hazards, credited by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as one of two events to bring the issue of environmental racism and injustice to the attention of the EPA.

In September 1990, he led a group of eight academics and activists, dubbed by the EPA as the “Michigan Coalition,” that met with then EPA Administrator William Reilly to discuss the issue and the importance of the EPA taking action. This led the EPA to issue its first official report on environmental racism and injustice and EPA’s plans for addressing this problem. These and the efforts of other environmental justice advocates and leaders led to President Bill Clinton signing the first Executive Order on Environmental Justice in 1994.

In addition to his national leadership on the issue of environmental justice, Bryant was a beloved teacher and academic mentor. He was a consultant to nonprofit environmental organizations, speaking on college campuses and professional conferences throughout the nation, with a goal of ending environmental racism. Over the years, his students commented on Bryant’s “superpower as a teacher and mentor,” “courage and will,” “inner strength and outward tranquility” and “being an inspiration.” He “brought people together in community building” and “empowered generations of environmental leaders.”

Bryant received many awards from U-M, including SNRE Teacher of the Year, an Arthur F. Thurnau Professorship, Harold R. Johnson Diversity Service Award and Excellence in Teaching.

Bunyan and his wife, Jean Carlberg, shared over 60 years of love, friendship and partnership in civil rights activities of the ’60s and ’70s, organic gardening in the back yard, and traveling in the United State, Europe, Kenya, South Korea and China, and for conferences on environmental justice, and learning new cultures.

A celebration of life will take place at 11 a.m. May 4 at First Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 4001 Ann Arbor-Saline Road, Ann Arbor. Visitation begins at 10 a.m.


Leave a comment

Please read our comment guidelines.