navigation bar Houghton Mifflin Social Studies United States History: Early Years
Biographies Unit Biographies

Blanche K. Bruce 1841–1898
African American Senator from Mississippi

Blanche K. Bruce was the eleventh child of an enslaved woman named Polly. He grew up on a plantation in Virginia. Unlike many enslaved people, Bruce had the opportunity to learn to read and write. He learned while taking care of the son of the plantation's owner, who had a tutor. Bruce's mother also encouraged her children to learn and to teach each other.

As he was growing up, others noticed his desire to learn. “Whenever he was wanted, he was always found with his head buried in a book or a newspaper . . .” one friend said of him.

During the Civil War, Bruce escaped slavery and went to Kansas. He became a teacher. After the war was over, Bruce moved to Mississippi as a free man. He taught there too and eventually oversaw all the schools in Bolivar County. He bought land and developed into a successful plantation owner. In 1880, Bruce became the first African American man to oversee the Republican National Convention. Just five years later, Bruce was elected to the Senate, becoming Mississippi's first African American senator to hold office for a full term. After leaving office, Bruce held government posts for Presidents James Garfield, Benjamin Harrison, and William McKinley.

Comprehension Check

When did Bruce become a senator?

Critical Thinking

In what way did Bruce's early life compare with that of other enslaved African Americans?