Blanche Bruce

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Blanche Bruce
Blanche Bruce - Brady-Handy.jpg
United States Senator
from Mississippi
In office
March 4, 1875 – March 4, 1881
Preceded by Henry R. Pease
Succeeded by James Z. George
Personal details
Born Blanche Kelso Bruce
(1841-03-01)March 1, 1841
Farmville, Virginia, U.S.
Died March 17, 1898(1898-03-17) (aged 57)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Josephine Willson Bruce
Profession Politician, teacher, farmer

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.

Life and politics[edit]

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.[1]

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.[2] 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.[1] 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.[3]

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.[4] He was appointed as Register of the Treasury a second time in 1897 by President William McKinley and served until his death in 1898.

Marriage and family[edit]

On June 24, 1878, Bruce married Josephine Beal Wilson (1853–February 15, 1923) of Cleveland, Ohio amid great publicity; the couple traveled to Europe for a four-month honeymoon. Their only child, Roscoe Conkling Bruce was born in 1879. He was named for New York Senator Roscoe Conkling, Bruce's mentor in the Senate. In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Blanche Bruce on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.[5]

Summary of Mr. Bruce's accomplishments through 1890.


  1. ^ a b Glass, Andrew (February 14, 2008). "Freed slave presides over Senate: February 14, 1879". The Politico. 
  2. ^ Rev. William J. Simmons, Men of Mark: Eminent, Progressive, and Rising, 1887. Pgs. 699-703. Geo. M. Rewell & Co., 1887
  3. ^ Turkel, Stanley (2005). Heroes of the American Reconstruction: Profiles of Sixteen Educators, Politicians and Activists. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company. p. 6. ISBN 0-7864-1943-1. Senator Bruce was also the first African-American to preside over the Senate and the first African-American whose signature appeared on all the nation's paper currency (as Register of the Treasury starting on May 18, 1881) 
  4. ^ "Blanche K. Bruce's New Office", Philadelphia Inquirer, January 1, 1890, page 1.
  5. ^ Asante, Molefi Kete (2002). 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-57392-963-8. 


  • Graham, Lawrence Otis (2006). The Senator and the Socialite: The True Story of America's First Black Dynasty. New York: Harper Collins. ISBN 978-0-06-098513-4. 

External links[edit]

United States Senate
Preceded by
Henry R. Pease
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Mississippi
March 4, 1875 – March 4, 1881
Served alongside: James L. Alcorn and Lucius Q. C. Lamar
Succeeded by
James Z. George