Roscoe Conkling Bruce

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Roscoe Conkling Bruce
Roscoe Conkling Bruce.jpg
Born (1879-04-21)21 April 1879
Washington, D.C.
Died 16 August 1950(1950-08-16) (aged 71)
New York City
Nationality American
Occupation Educator
Known for Emphasis on industrial training for African Americans

Roscoe Conkling Bruce, Senior (21 April 1879 – 16 August 1950) was an African-American educator who was known for stressing the value of practical industrial and business skills as opposed to academic disciplines. Later he administered the Dunbar Apartments housing complex in Harlem, New York City, and was editor in chief of the Harriet Tubman Publishing Company.

Birth and education[edit]

Roscoe Conkling Bruce was born on 21 April 1879 in Washington, D.C., the only son of U.S. Senator Blanche Bruce and his wife Josephine Beall Willson Bruce. His father was a Republican from Mississippi.[1] Blanche Bruce was a former slave, the second African American to be elected to the U.S. Senate, and the first to serve a full six-year term. Josephine Beall Willson was the daughter of a Cleveland dentist.[2] She had been an elementary school teacher. In 1899 Booker T. Washington hired her as lady principal at the Tuskegee Institute. In 1901 she ran unsuccessfully for election as President of the National Association of Colored Women.[3]

Roscoe Conkling was their only child.[2] He was named after Senator Roscoe Conkling of New York, who supported his father against anti-black prejudice in the Senate chamber.[1] His secondary education was first at Washington's M Street High School and then at Phillips Exeter Academy, where he was one of the editors of The Exonian, the student newspaper.[1] He went on to Harvard University in 1898. At Harvard in 1898 he won the Pasteur Medal for debating, in 1899 was chosen as one of three men to represent Harvard in a debate against Princeton University, in 1900 represented Harvard in the oratorical contest against Yale University and won the Coolidge debating prize. He graduated with an AB degree in 1902, magna cum laude, and became a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Society.[4]


From 1902 to 1906 Bruce supervised the Academic Department of Tuskegee Institute and also taught classes.[4] He had been hired by Booker T. Washington to change the curriculum to become less academic and emphasize more practical skills, a change that was unpopular with the faculty and the students.[5] Bruce advised Washington to expand Tuskegee to other countries, such as South Africa. Bruce eliminated music and Bible study courses, and threatened to eliminate other academic courses if the teachers did not "appreciably ... diminish the amount of time required of his students for the preparation of his subjects". He wanted Tuskegee to become "a first class industrial school rather than a second class academic."[6]

On 3 June 1903 Bruce married Clara Washington Burrill of Washington, D.C. at the Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church. They had three children, Clara Josephine, Roscoe Conkling Jr.[a] and Burrill Kelso Bruce.[4]

Burce became the principal of Armstrong Manual Training School in 1906.[9] Bruce felt that industrial and business education were important, and tried to convert the school into a technical high school.[4] With the support of Booker T. Washington, Bruce was promoted to Assistant Superintendent in charge of the Colored Schools of the District of Columbia in 1907.[9] He demanded that every student at the Dunbar High School take at least one industrial course. A boys' and a girls' vocational school were established on his recommendation. He supported reorganization of the Washington D.C. school system under the Congressional Organic Act of 1906, which gave control of the public school to a board of education whose members were appointed by the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia and who served three-year terms without pay. In July 1921 Bruce resigned from his position and took charge of a project to organize high schools for African American children in Kimball, West Virginia. Later that year he became principal of Kimball's Browns Creek District High School.[4]

Later career[edit]

In 1927 Bruce moved to Harlem, where he became resident manager of the Dunbar Apartments. The Dunbar Complex was financed by John D. Rockefeller and designed by the architect Andrew J. Thomas, with the aim of giving decent accommodation for low-income African Americans. Early in the 1930s Bruce became editor-in-chief of the Harriet Tubman Publishing Company. He also authored a school textbook called Just Women which gave a history of notable African-American women. He died in New York City on 16 August 1950 at the age of 87 and was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Washington, D.C.[4]

Notes and references[edit]


  1. ^ Roscoe Conklin Bruce Junior, born in 1906, was at the center of a national debate in 1923 when he was at first prevented from taking a room in Harvard's white freshman dorms.[7] The ban was ordered by Abbott Lawrence Lowell, President of Harvard.[8]