Blanche Kelso Bruce was born an American slave in 1841 in Prince Edward County, Va. He was tutored by his slave master’s son, who was also his half-brother. During the war, he escaped from his plantation in Mississippi. He was rejected by the Union Army and, in turn, opened a school for black children in Hannibal, Mo. When he returned to Mississippi, Bruce worked as a cotton farmer.
In 1869, Bruce became supervisor of elections in Mississippi. Then, only a year later, he served as sergeant-at-arms in the state senate, then as county assessor and sheriff. He later served as a member of the Board of Levee Commissioners of the Mississippi River.