Aug 9, 2012 No Comments ›› Pat Dollard
Excerpted from THE BLAZE: The Rev. C.L. Bryant invigorated the crowd at FreePAC late last month when he encouraged thousands in the audience to “defend the republic,” while also tackling the enslavement that he believes comes along with government dependency. It is this latter message of freedom from the government’s shackles that Bryant has become known for in conservative circles, as the African American faith leader and orator is frequently called upon to drive home the importance of freedom and prosperity for all.
And though he is firmly planted on the right today, Bryant was once working and advocating on the left side of the aisle. In an exclusive interview with TheBlaze, Bryant discussed his path from the NAACP to the Tea Party, highlighting his professional and spiritual journey along the way.
BRYANT’S CAREER WITH THE NAACP
Bryant, both an activist and a religious leader, described having joined a Christian church at the age of five. By 22 he was a minister and he’s been an ordained Baptist pastor for the past 27 years, leading three churches throughout his career. Bryant also served as president of the Garland, Texas, NAACP chapter in the late 1980s.
Considering the political nature of the NAACP — and the fact that the group tends to embrace more liberal ideals — it’s surprising that the conservative leader was once in a key leadership position with the organization. Naturally, TheBlaze asked him to explain the experience.
Having grown up in the segregated South, Bryant spoke about some of the challenges he faced growing up.
“I remember ‘Negro Day’ at the fair and that was the one day in the fair that [blacks] could go. I grew up in that type of environment,” he explained, going on to joke, “It always seemed that white folks controlled the weather because it always rained that day!”
These life experiences led to a “natural progression” into NAACP leadership. But success leading the civil rights chapter didn’t last for long. After a celebrated presidency within the group, the tides began to turn.
“I came to a conclusion that they not only wanted to control my agenda — they also wanted to control me,” he explained.
After he declined an invitation to speak at a pro-choice rally based on his personal views on abortion, his problems with the NAACP began. As a result of this principled stance, Bryant said that his “star that was rising began to wane.”
While he inevitably left his leadership role with NAACP, he said that, looking back on the experience, it was a good opportunity that gave him “a unique view of both sides of the aisle.” It was after this stint with the liberal group that Bryant had an epiphany — one that has, for the past 19 years — solidified his standing as a conservative.
HOW BRYANT CONVERTED TO CONSERVATISM
After leaving the NAACP, Bryant moved to Tampa, Florida, with his wife. One day, he recalls listening to the radio in an effort to find Jim Hightower, a liberal commentator he enjoyed listening to. But, rather than finding the show he had come to know and love, he stumbled upon something very different.
“I was flipping through the AM stations and I came across a guy by the name of Rush,” Bryant said, referring to popular radio host Rush Limbaugh. “The more I listened to this guy, Rush — there was something that he was saying that rang true to me.”
From there, the transformation began and Bryant recognized that many leftist policies and ideals create a mindset of victimization among African Americans and others. The path to becoming a conservative, though, hasn’t always been easy. When he joined the Tea Party back in 2009, Bryant, who was pastoring a church at the time, caught the ire of leaders there.
While tensions rose, it wasn’t until 2010, when he began pondering an idea for a film he had been dreaming up (inevitably, this project was produced and released as “Runaway Slave,” a new documentary that tackles the issues of race and dependency). The church was initially willing to forgive his mere conservative opinions, but the film project seemed to tip the scales.
“[Church leaders] came to me and they told me, ‘Pastor, we want you to go back to being the guy that you were when you came here nine years ago,” he explained.
Naturally, that was an impossibility; the conversion was complete. Bryant’s message about Obama — that despite being the same color as African Americans, he didn’t necessarily hold the same values — fell flat with many in his congregation. Inevitably, he left the house of worship and claims that, looking back, “The Lord has opened doors that I would not have seen.”