BY WALTER OPINDE
Blanche Bruce Kelso, a Republican, was the first African-American in the U.S. Senate to serve a full term. Historical records also reveal that Bruce was the first and the only former slave to have ever served in the U.S. Senate. He navigated the Reconstruction through political shrewdness and developed friendships with Presidents Booker T. Washington, Frederick Douglass, and Ulysses Grant after exhibiting his steadfast stand and determination to carry on his political career even after the end of the Reconstruction. He represented Mississippi as a Republican in the U.S. Senate between 1875 and 1881. Being from a mixed race, Bruce entered the historical records for being the first black senator to be elected to serve a full term.
Born as a slave in Virginia’s Prince Edward County on 1st March 1841 to an enslaved woman- Polly Bruce who served as a domestic slave, Blanche grew to become one of the staunch black politician ever known in American history. He was fathered by his mother’s master- Perkinson Pettis, a white planter at Virginia. Bruce’s role model, tutor, and mentor was Mr. Perkinson’s son and a stepbrother, William, who taught him how to read and write. This cordial environment between the two stepbrothers was created by their father, Mr. Perkinson, who treated Bruce comparatively well and sometimes intervened in their joint private studies. He learned and continued with his further studies at Oberlin College, Ohio, for about two years before relocating to Hannibal, Missouri, where he started a school for the African-American children.
Blanche Bruce’s unfaltering political stand and activities earned him popularity in the U.S. politics, and by February 1874, he became the second African-American to serve in the Congress upper house after he was elected to the Republican Senate by the state legislature. During the 1880’s Republican National Convention held in Chicago, Bruce was the first black aspirant ever to win any votes for an elective national office. In this major party’s nomination, he got eight votes for the vice president’s post; the presidential nominee who won the election was James Garfield. A year later, in 1881, President Garfield appointed Mr. Blanche Bruce as the Registrar of Treasury, thereby becoming the first African-American ever to feature his signature on the U.S. paper currency. He was later appointed to serve as the recorder of deeds in the District of Columbia; a post he held for about three years from 1890 to 1893.
During his senatorial service, Bruce advocated for the railroad construction and levee systems, alongside political reforms in the federal elections. He spoke out loudly for the civil rights and equality for the African-Americans, Natives Americans, as well as the people from the Chinese origin, who were gradually becoming the primary laborers in the Delta regions of Mississippi.
Bruce died on 17th March 1898, at 57 years of age, while still in office, leaving behind a political legacy as Mississippi’s first black (African-American) senator.
“Read more of the original story via: history.house.gov/People/Detail/10029?ret=True”
Graham, Lawrence Otis. The Senator and the Socialite: The True Story of America’s First Black Dynasty. New York: HarperCollins, 2006.
Mann, Kenneth Eugene. “Blanche Kelso Bruce: United States Senator without a Constituency.” Journal of Mississippi History 38 (May 1976): 183-98