In the 1960s, she served as a troubleshooter of racially motivated conflict in the schools.
She earned a bachelor's degree in elementary education from what is now Cheyney University in 1943 and a master's degree in human relations from the University of Pennsylvania in 1966.
Born in Pelham, N.C., Mrs. Brightful moved with her family to Philadelphia at age 3.
"She loved school and admired her teacher so much that she made the decision at that time to become a teacher one day," her family said in a tribute.
As a black pupil among mostly white classmates during the 1920s and 1930s, Mrs. Brightful experienced discrimination, but she was determined to overcome stereotypes by earning top grades.
Her senior-year Latin teacher was so impressed by her ability to read Latin that she arranged a meeting with the president of what was then the State Normal School at Cheyney. By the time Mrs. Brightful graduated from Lansdowne High School in 1938, she had landed an academic scholarship to Cheyney.
The seeds sown when Mrs. Brightful had faced racial bias in the classroom as a girl blossomed into resolve as an adult. She vowed to address racial inequality in the city schools, and to bridge the gap between the school system and the African American community.
In 1968, she was one of two district employees appointed to pioneer the first Department of African American Studies in the Philadelphia schools. The other was William C. Green, her boss.
As supervisor of African American Studies in the Office of Curriculum and Instruction, she developed the new Africa-based curriculum. She trained teachers and administrators, and guided teachers on several lengthy study tours to Africa so they could learn the history.
"She loved it," said her daughter Linda Lucas. "Her biggest accomplishment came when her boss told her she had done a good job when she retired."
Her first day at Cheyney, she had met star athlete Charles Brightful. The two married in 1946 and raised a family in Yeadon.
In retirement, she advocated for troubled students in the Yeadon public schools. In recognition of her work, she was inducted into the Yeadon Hall of Fame as an "Advocate for High Quality Education" in 2005, and the Yeadon Civic Association created the Gwendolyn Bedford Brightful Scholarship.
Surviving, besides her daughter, are another daughter, Marilyn Hill; four grandchildren; seven great-grandchildren; a brother; a sister; and nieces and nephews.
Her husband died in 1995. A daughter, Diane, also died earlier.
A funeral and interment were in Charlotte.