Blanche Bruce
Register of the Treasury
In office
December 3, 1897 – March 17, 1898
PresidentWilliam McKinley
Preceded byFount Tillman
Succeeded byJudson Lyons
In office
May 21, 1881 – June 5, 1885
PresidentJames A. Garfield
Chester A. Arthur
Grover Cleveland
Preceded byGlenni Scofield
Succeeded byWilliam Rosecrans
United States Senator
from Mississippi
In office
March 4, 1875 – March 4, 1881
Preceded byHenry R. Pease
Succeeded byJames Z. George
Personal details
Blanche Kelso Bruce

(1841-03-01)March 1, 1841
Farmville, Virginia, U.S.
DiedMarch 17, 1898(1898-03-17) (aged 57)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Resting placeWoodlawn Cemetery
Political partyRepublican
SpouseJosephine Willson
EducationOberlin College

Blanche Kelso Bruce (March 1, 1841 – March 17, 1898) was an American politician who represented Mississippi as a Republican in the United States Senate from 1875 to 1881. Born into slavery in Prince Edward County, Virginia, he went on to become the first elected African-American 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 complete a full term).[1]

His home, the Blanche K. Bruce House, is a National Historic Landmark.

Early life and education

Bruce's house at 909 M Street NW in Washington, D.C. was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1975

Bruce was born into slavery in 1841 in Prince Edward County, Virginia, near Farmville to Polly Bruce, an African-American woman who served as a domestic slave. His father was his master, Pettis Perkinson, a white Virginia planter. Bruce was treated comparatively well by his father, who educated him together with a legitimate half-brother. When Bruce was young, he played with his half-brother. One source claims that his father legally freed Blanche and arranged for an apprenticeship so he could learn a trade. In an 1886 newspaper interview, however, Bruce says that he gained his freedom by moving to Kansas as soon as hostilities broke out in the Civil War.[2][3]


Bruce attended Oberlin College for two years in Oberlin, Ohio. 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.

In 1868, during Reconstruction, Bruce relocated to Bolivar near Cleveland in northwestern Mississippi, at which he purchased a Mississippi Delta plantation.[4] He became a wealthy landowner of several thousand acres in the Mississippi Delta. He was appointed to the positions of Tallahatchie County registrar of voters and tax assessor before he won an election for sheriff in Bolivar County.[5] He later was elected to other county positions, including tax collector and supervisor of education, while he also edited a local newspaper. He became sergeant-at-arms for the Mississippi State Senate in 1870.[4]

In February 1874, Bruce was elected to the U.S. Senate, 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 have done so.[2] In 1880, James Z. George, a Confederate Army veteran and member of the Democratic Party, was elected to succeed Bruce. After his Senate term expired, Bruce remained in Washington, D.C., secured a succession of Republican patronage jobs and stumped for Republican candidates across the country. He acquired a large townhouse and summer home, and presided over black high society.[6]

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, with eight votes for vice president. The presidential nominee that year was Ohio's James A. Garfield, who narrowly won election over the Democrat Winfield Scott Hancock.[7]

In early 1889, politically-connected blacks lobbied for Bruce to receive a Cabinet appointment in the Harrison Administration. Said one newspaper: "Bruce is a man of respectable ability, and has, perhaps, more than any other man of his race who has sat in Congress, the respect of those with whom he served.[8]

Bruce served by appointment as the District of Columbia recorder of deeds from 1890 to 1893. A Philadelphia newspaper reported his appointment in 1890,[9] but persistent claims that his salary was $30,000 a year are not substantiated by any primary records. He also served on the District of Columbia Board of Trustees of Public Schools from 1892 to 1895.[10] He was a participant in the March 5, 1897 meeting to celebrate the memory of Frederick Douglass and the American Negro Academy led by Alexander Crummell.[11] He was appointed as Register of the Treasury a second time in 1897 by President William McKinley and served until his death from diabetes complications in 1898.[12]

Personal life

On June 24, 1878, Bruce married Josephine Beall Willson (1853–1923), a fair-skinned socialite of Cleveland, Ohio, amid great publicity; the couple traveled to Europe for a four-month honeymoon.[13] Their only child, Roscoe Conkling Bruce, was born in 1879. He was named for U.S. Senator Roscoe Conkling of New York, Bruce's mentor in the Senate.

One newspaper wrote that Bruce did not approve of the designation "colored men." He often said, "I am a Negro and proud of it."[4]

Honors and legacy

Blanche Kelso Bruce (2001)

In July 1898, the District of Columbia public school trustees ordered that a then-new public school building on Marshall Street in Park View be named the Bruce School in his honor.[14]

In 1975, the Washington, D.C. residence of Bruce, was declared a National Historic Landmark and formally named The Blanche K. Bruce House.[15]

In October of 1999, the U.S. Senate commissioned a portrait of Bruce. African-American Washington D.C. artist Simmie Knox was selected in 2000 to paint the portrait, which was unveiled in the Capitol in 2001.

In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Blanche Bruce on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.[16]

A historical highway marker marking Bruce's birthplace at the intersection of highway 360 and 623 near Green Bay, Prince Edward County, Virginia, was unveiled by the African American Heritage Preservation Foundation on March 1, 2006.[17]

In June 2006, a historical book about Bruce was authored by Lawrence Otis Graham, titled The True Story of America's First Black Dynasty: The Senator and the Socialite.[18]

See also


  1. ^ Wilson, J. G.; Fiske, J., eds. (1900). "Bruce, Blanche Kelso" . Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton.
  2. ^ a b Glass, Andrew (February 14, 2011). "Freed slave presides over Senate: February 14, 1879". The Politico.
  3. ^ "Reminiscences of the Kansas Life of Ex-Senator B. K. Bruce".
  4. ^ a b c Wright, John Aaron (2002). Discovering African American St. Louis: A Guide to Historic Sites. St. Louis, Missouri: Missouri History Museum.
  5. ^ Rev. William J. Simmons, Men of Mark: Eminent, Progressive, and Rising, 1887. pp. 699–703. Geo. M. Rewell& Co., 1887
  6. ^ Eric Foner (July 2, 2006). "Rise and Fall of the House of Bruce". The Washington Post. Washington, D.C.
  7. ^ Turkel, Stanley (2005). Heroes of the American Reconstruction: Profiles of Sixteen Educators, Politicians and Activists. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company. p. 6. ISBN 0786419431. 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)
  8. ^ "Color in the Cabinet". Big Sandy News (Louisa, KY). January 3, 1889. Retrieved December 2, 2023.
  9. ^ "Blanche K. Bruce's New Office". The Philadelphia Inquirer. January 30, 1890. p. 1. Retrieved May 23, 2023 – via
  10. ^ The Executive Documents of the House of Representatives for the third session of the fifty-third Congress 1894–1895. Government Printing Office. 1895. p. 819. Retrieved September 16, 2016.
  11. ^ Seraile, William. Bruce Grit: The Black Nationalist Writings of John Edward Bruce. Univ. of Tennessee Press, 2003. pp. 110–111.
  12. ^ "Blanche K. Bruce". Biography. Archived from the original on October 13, 2018. Retrieved October 12, 2018.
  13. ^ Gardner, Eric (January 2006). Bruce, Josephine Beall Willson : African American National Biography. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0195301731.
  14. ^ Annual Report of the Commissioners of the District of Columbia for the year ended June 30, 1899. Government Printing Office. 1899. p. 36.
  15. ^ "Blanche K. Bruce House - Blanche K. Bruce, the only formerly enslaved man to serve in the Senate and the first Black man to serve a full term, lived in this house while a Senator". DC Historic Sites. Retrieved August 27, 2023.
  16. ^ Asante, Molefi Kete (2002). 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books. ISBN 1573929638.
  17. ^ African American Heritage Preservation Foundation, Inc. (February 13, 2006). "Dedication Ceremony honoring ex-slave Blanche Kelso Bruce, 1st Black senator to serve a full term". History News Network.
  18. ^ "The Senator and the Socialite - Lawrence Otis Graham - Paperback". HarperCollins Canada. Retrieved August 27, 2023.


U.S. Senate Preceded byHenry R. Pease United States Senator (Class 1) from Mississippi 1875–1881 Served alongside: James L. Alcorn, Lucius Lamar Succeeded byJames Z. George New office Chair of the Senate Mississippi River Levees Committee 1877–1879 Succeeded by??? Honorary titles Preceded byStephen Wallace Dorsey Baby of the Senate 1879–1881 Succeeded byArthur Pue Gorman Political offices Preceded byGlenni Scofield Register of the Treasury 1881–1885 Succeeded byWilliam Rosecrans Preceded byFount Tillman Register of the Treasury 1897–1898 Succeeded byJudson Lyons