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.
After a series of high political positions, Republican Blanche Bruce was elected in 1874, becoming the second black to run for U.S. Senate in Mississippi and the first black to serve a full term in the U.S. Senate by 1881. Bruce’s platform was about the fair treatment of blacks and Indians and he fought against policies excluding Chinese immigrants. He also fought against corruption in Mississippi elections. During his term in the Senate, Bruce served as presiding officer at the Republican National Convention in both 1880 and 1881, both times, being nominated as vice president of the committee.
From the money he earned in politics, Bruce made enough money to buy a plantation in Floreyville, Mississippi. At the end of his term in the U.S. Senate, he was Recorder of the Deeds in D.C. and was later appointed Register of the Treasury for two separate terms.
Blanche Kelso Bruce died in Washington, D.C. on March 17, 1898 from complications related to diabetes. He was survived by his wife, Josephine Beall Wilson, and their son, Roscoe Conkling Bruce.