Blanche Kelso Bruce was an African American politician, teacher and farmer. He was the first elected African American senator to serve a full term in the U.S. Senate from 1875 – 1881.
Blanche Bruce was born in 1841 in Prince Edward County, Virginia near Farmville to Pettis Perkinson, a white Virginia plantation owner, and Polly Bruce, an African American house slave. His father treated him well and educated him along with his half brother. Bruce was born enslaved because of his mother’s status. He flew to Kansas then to a free state. He became a printer’s apprentice and moved to Missouri in 1850. He applied to fight in the civil war, but was refused the ability to do so. Instead, he taught school and attended Oberlin College in Ohio for two years. After, he worked as a steamboat porter on the Mississippi River. In 1864, he moved back to Missouri and established a school for blacks in Hannibal.
Bruce became a wealthy landowner in the Mississippi Delta. He was appointed to the positions of Tallahatchie County registrar of voters and tax assessor before winning an election for sheriff in Bolivar County. He was later elected to other county positions such as tax collector and supervisor of education. In 1874, he was elected by the state legislature to the Senate as a Republican. Bruce married Josephine Beal Wilson and had a son, Roscoe Conkling Bruce, in 1879.
On February 14, 1879, Bruce presided over the U.S. Senate becoming the first African American and former slave to do so. He served as the District of Columbia recorder of deeds in 1891 – 93, and again as register of treasury until his death in 1898.