Since there are so many facets of the history that people of African descent have made in this country, I’ve decided to continue my “Black History 365″ series from my poetry blog here on my AfrocentriqueAZ blog. I’ll be posting a new “First Black” entry every Wednesday. This week is Blanche Kelso Bruce.
Blanche Kelso Bruce (March 1, 1841 – March 17, 1898) was a U.S. politician who represented Mississippi as a Republican in the U.S. Senate from 1875 to 1881; of mixed race, he was the first elected black senator to serve a full term. Hiram R. Revels, also of Mississippi, was the first African American to serve in the U.S. Senate, but did not serve a full term.
Bruce was born into slavery in 1841 in Prince Edward County, Virginia near Farmville to Polly Bruce, an enslaved African-American woman who served as a domestic slave. His father was her master, Pettis Perkinson, a white Virginia plantation owner. Bruce was treated comparatively well by his father, who educated him together with a legitimate half-brother. When Blanche Bruce was young, he played with his half-brother. His father legally freed Blanche and arranged for an apprenticeship so he could learn a trade.
Bruce’s house at 909 M Street NW in Washington, D.C. was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1975
In 1850, Bruce moved to Missouri after becoming a printer’s apprentice. After the Union Army rejected his application to fight in the Civil War, Bruce taught school and attended Oberlin College in Ohio for two years. He next worked as a steamboat porter on the Mississippi River. In 1864, he moved to Hannibal, Missouri, where he established a school for black children.
During Reconstruction, Bruce moved to Mississippi, where he became a wealthy landowner in the Mississippi Delta. He was appointed to the positions of Tallahatchie County registrar of voters and tax assessor before winning an election for sheriff in Bolivar County. He later was elected to other county positions, including tax collector and supervisor of education, while he also edited a local newspaper. In February 1874, Bruce was elected by the state legislature to the Senate as a Republican, becoming the second African American to serve in the upper house of Congress. On February 14, 1879, Bruce presided over the U.S. Senate, becoming the first African American (and the only former slave) to do so. In 1880, James Z. George was elected to succeed Bruce.
At the 1880 Republican National Convention in Chicago, Bruce became the first African American to win any votes for national office at a major party’s nominating convention, winning 8 votes for vice president. The presidential nominee that year was James A. Garfield, who won election.
May 28, 1880 Herald of Kansas article (page 2) promoting the Blaine – Bruce ticket.
In 1881, Bruce was appointed by President Garfield to be the Register of the Treasury, becoming the first African American to have his signature featured on U.S. paper currency.
Bruce was appointed as the District of Columbia recorder of deeds in 1890–93, which was expected to yield fees of up to $30,000 per year. He was appointed as Register of the Treasury a second time in 1897 by President William McKinley and served until his death in 1898.
- Blanche Bruce at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress Retrieved on 2009-03-26
- “Blanche Bruce”. Find a Grave. Retrieved 2009-03-26.
- Biography and Joe Kelso.Tripod
- Review of The Senator and the Socialite