Blanche Kelso Bruce, a Republican senator from Mississippi, was the first African American to serve a full term in the US Senate Bruce may be remembered best for his participation in the investigation into the collapse of the Freedmen's Savings and Trust Company Before entering politics, Bruce was a successful educator Bruce was born on March 1, 1841, on a plantation in Farmville, Prince Edward County, Virginia His mother, Polly, was a slave, and his father was probably Polly's master, Pettus Perkinson Polly named her 11th child Blanche Bruce, but Bruce added the middle name Kelso as an adult Various accounts of Bruce's childhood all acknowledged that he had more advantages than many other slave children Bruce learned to read and demonstrated an eagerness for learning Bruce's mother encouraged her children to take advantage of learning opportunities During the early years of the Civil War, Bruce fled from Missouri to Laurence, Kansas.
When the fugitive slave returned to Missouri in 1864, the state was forced to recognize him as a free man Bruce then founded a school for black children in Hannibal, Missouri Some accounts of his life suggest that Bruce attended Oberlin College, however, this has never been established by Oberlin By 1868 Bruce had begun working as a cotton farmer in Mississippi Bruce was now ready to take advantage of all of the opportunities available to an ambitious, emancipated black man in the post-Civil War South Literate, articulate, ambitious, and light-skinned, Bruce was well-advantaged David S Barry, a contemporary of Bruce's, said, as quoted in Aristocrats of Color: The Black Elite 1880-1920, that Bruce was of "high moral, mental, and physical standards .
a handsome man, well- built, with a finely shaped head covered with curly black hair" These characteristics, combined with his ability to recognize and seize opportunities, made Bruce an ideal politician In January of 1870 Bruce was elected sergeant-at-arms of the Mississippi Senate The following year he became the sheriff and tax assessor of Bolivar County In 1880 Bruce, a Republican, became the first black man to lead the Republican National Convention According to Howard N Rabinowitz, author of Black Leaders, white planters who dominated the politics of the area considered Bruce, who had offended no local whites, "safe--a dignified and educated mulatto who did not identify himself with threatening issues" Bruce was also a landowner--he had turned 640 acres of swampy land into a plantation--which made him even more appealing to white voters In 1873 Bruce declined an offer to run for lieutenant governor He had his eye one a senatorial seat instead Most Republicans wanted Bruce in the Senate, especially James Hill, Mississippi's most influential black leader.
According to John W Cromwell in The Negro in American History, Hill had once told Bruce, "I can and will put you there [in a Senate seat]; no one can defeat you" Bruce announced his candidacy for a US Senate seat in 1874 Bruce defeated two white carpetbaggers and was elected, becoming the second black man from Mississippi to serve in that position During the next six years, Bruce maintained a secure reputation, often presiding over the Senate Bruce was considered a moderate in his political views Like Booker T Washington, Bruce wanted civil rights for blacks, though not necessarily social equality Bruce argued for the desegregation of the US Army Bruce chaired the investigation into the Freedmen's Savings and Trust scandal.
Since its inception, after the federal government's 1865 authorization of a bank for blacks that would help former slaves become economically stable, mismanagement and corruption had plagued Freedmen's Savings and Trust By 1874, the bank had collapsed Following the end of his term in Senate, Bruce had become one of the most influential men of the black middle class and had formed strong alliances with white Republican leaders Using his reputation and status as a gentleman farmer, politician, and educator, Bruce was able to secure positions after he left office In 1881 he became the first black Register of the Treasury under President James Garfield President Benjamin Harrison appointed Bruce as Recorder of Deeds of the District of Columbia in 1889, and he remained in this post until 1894 In 1895, under President William McKinley, Bruce held an appointed post of Register of the Treasury for three months until an illness forced him to leave the position Bruce operated a successful business in Washington, DC, handling investments, claims, insurance, and real estate He also served on the Board of Trustees of Howard University from 1894 to 1898, receiving an honorary degree from the school in 1893 Regarded by some historians as the most successful black politician of the Reconstruction period, Bruce died from diabetic complications in March of 1898, in Washington, DC.
He was 57 years old .