In the early and mid-1970s, Maurita Bryant worked at whatever minimum wage job she could, usually more than one, to pay the bills her husband couldn’t because he was constantly in and out of jail.
“I was in the second class of Black females behind pioneers like late Cmdr. Gwen Elliott.”
Allegheny County assistant police superintendent
In 1977, after a federal discrimination lawsuit forced the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police to hire Blacks and women, she applied. She retired 38 years later as an assistant chief, the only African American woman to reach that rank.
Now making $95,000 a year as Allegheny County assistant police superintendent, Bryant recently told an audience at the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Race and Social Problems how her early struggles gave her a unique perspective as a police officer, and helped forge the unique drive that made her successful.
“My earliest motivation was strictly survival—raising my daughters and moving them out of the projects,” she said.
Being one of the first Black female recruits, Bryant noted she faced blatant discrimination for both her race and gender, and while it is not as overt today, racism and sexism still exist within the department to this day.
“I was in the second class of Black females behind pioneers like late Cmdr. Gwen Elliott,” she said. “We were considered the least qualified by our peers—deemed by some as unfit and unwanted, and only advanced to fill a quota. But despite all the ‘isms’ on the job I was determined to succeed. As long as they didn’t put their hands on me I didn’t care what they said.”