DAILY DOSE OF HISTORY: Blanche Kelso Bruce – Senator

Farmville

Blanche Bruce was born on March 1, 1841, in Farmville, Virginia. He was born to a slave woman named Polly who conceived him by her master, Pettus Perkinson. Bruce had 10 siblings. Unlike other slave children, he was taught how to read and write from a private tutor. As a slave, he was forced to serve his all-White half-brother, William Perkinson.

Emancipated

During the Civil War, Bruce ran away from his master/father. He adopted the middle name Kelso and attempted to enlist in the Union Army. He was rejected. Shortly after his rejection, he moved to Missouri in 1864 and lived as a free man. He decided to establish a school for Black children in Hannibal.

Education

Some accounts show that Bruce attended Oberlin College beginning in 1866. Oberlin College has not been able to substantiate his attendance but the possibility cannot be ruled out. In 1868, he moved to Mississippi. There, he worked as a cotton farmer and eventually accumulated 640 acres of land. He was able to establish a large plantation.

Sergeant-In-Arms

In 1870, Bruce embarked upon a career in politics. The Mississippi Senate appointed him the sergeant-in-arms. In 1874, he was elected by the Mississippi state legislature to be its representative in the U.S. Senate. He became the second Black person in America to be a U.S. Senator and the first Black person to hold a full term in the U.S. Senate, serving from 1875-1881.
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Activist Work

While serving as Senator, Bruce unsuccessfully attempted to desegregate the army. In 1878, he was elected chairman of the Select Committee to Investigate the Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company. From 1877 to 1879, he served as the chairman for the Mississippi River’s Select Committee.

Later Years

In 1880 and 1889, Bruce was the presiding officer at the Republican National Convention. Both times he received vice presidential nominations. During Garfield’s presidency, he was placed in charge of the U.S. Treasury. During Harrison’s presidency, he was selected to serve as the record of deeds for Washington, D.C. He returned to his treasury position once McKinley took office.

Legacy

Blanche Kelso Bruce died of diabetes-related complications in Washington, D.C. on March 17, 1898. He was 57 years old. He was survived by his wife, Josephine Beall Wilson and their son Roscoe Conkling Bruce. As an adult, Bruce’s son became a notable educator.
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**The views and actions of the DDH historical figures that are featured may not reflect the views and beliefs of Ramiro The Writer or We Buy Black. Thank you.**
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