Blanche Bruce Biography ID 73

Blanche K. Bruce was born in 1841 near Farmville, Virginia. The youngest of 11 children, he worked in fields and factories from Virginia to Mississippi. Highly intelligent and fiercely ambitious, Bruce gained his earliest formal education from the tutor hired to teach his master's son.

At the start of the Civil War, Bruce escaped slavery by fleeing to Kansas. He attended Oberlin College for two years and then moved to Mississippi, where he purchased an abandoned cotton plantation and amassed a real estate fortune. In 1874, while Mississippi remained under postwar military control, the state legislature elected Bruce to the U.S. Senate. Several years earlier, that legislature had sent the Senate its first African-American member when it elected Hiram Revels to fill out the remaining months of an unexpired term.

Blanche Bruce's Senate service got off to a sour start when Mississippi's other senator, James Alcorn, refused to escort him to the front of the chamber to take his oath of office. As Bruce started down the aisle alone, New York Republican Roscoe Conkling moved to his side and completed the journey to the rostrum. The grateful senator later named his only son Roscoe Conkling Bruce.

Withdrawal of the military government in Mississippi ended Republican control of that state's political institutions and any chance that Bruce might serve more than a single term. That term, however, proved to be an active one as he advocated civil rights for blacks, native Americans, Chinese immigrants, and even former Confederates. It was during a heated debate on a bill to exclude Chinese immigrants that Bruce made history at the presiding officer's desk. After leaving the Senate, Bruce held a variety of key government and educational posts until his death in 1898.

Biography courtesy the United States Senate Historical Office

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