Senator Blanche Kelso Bruce
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 Richmond, VA – February 1, 2006,  The Virginia Historic Resources Board has approved a new historic highway marker in Prince Edward County, Virginia. The Board meeting was held in June 2005 and voted to authorize a marker to commemorate the birthplace of United States Senator Blanche Kelso Bruce.

A dedication ceremony will be held on March 1, 2006, at 12 p.m. for the unveiling of this historical highway marker on the 165th birthday of Senator Bruce. This historical highway marker will be unveiled at the intersection of highway 360 and 623 near Green Bay, Prince Edward County, Virginia. The public is invited to attend this dedication.

Blanche Kelso Bruce was born into slavery two miles south of Green Bay, Prince Edward County, on 1 March 1841, son of Polly Bruce, a slave, and a Virginia planter. Bruce spent his childhood years in Virginia on the plantation of Pettus Perkinson where he received his earliest education.  He worked as a field hand and printer's apprentice as his master moved him from Virginia to Mississippi and Missouri.

At the beginning of the Civil War, Bruce escaped slavery and eventually settled in Lawrence, Kansas where he organized the state's first school for African Americans.  At the end of the Civil War, Bruce moved to Hannibal, Missouri where he established and taught in the first school for African Americans in the state. In 1866, Bruce entered Oberlin College in Ohio where he remained for one year as a result of financial difficulties and was forced to leave. The following year, he was employed as a porter on the steamer Columbia, which traveled between St. Louis, Missouri and Council Bluffs, Iowa.

In 1869, Bruce moved to Mississippi and established himself as a prosperous landowner. In subsequent years, during Reconstruction, he was appointed registrar of voters in Tallahatchie County and was elected Sergeant-At-Arms of the new State Senate. In 1871, Bruce assumed several political positions. He was appointed tax assessor and superintendent of education in Bolivar County and elected sheriff and tax collector of Bolivar County. Bruce gained the attention of powerful white Republicans who dominated Mississippi's Reconstruction government. These Republicans secured more appointments for Bruce and made him the most recognized African American political leader in the state.

In February 1874, the Mississippi legislature elected Bruce to the United State Senate. Bruce formally entered the Senate on 5 March 1875, and was elected to three committees: Pensions; Manufactures; and Education and Labor. On 14 February 1879, during the debate on Chinese exclusion bill that he opposed, Bruce became the first African American senator to preside over a Senate session. On 7 April 1879, he was appointed chairman of the Select Committee to Investigate the Freedman's Savings and Trust Company.

Following the close of his Senate service on 3 March 1881, Bruce rejected an offer of the ministry to Brazil because slavery was still practiced there. In May 1881, Bruce was appointed as Registrar of the Treasury and served until 1885. Bruce served as Recorder of Deeds for the District of Columbia from 1891-1893 and again as Register of the Treasury from 1897 until his death.  Bruce served as a trustee of Howard University, which conferred on him the degree of LL.D. in 1890. He also served as a trustee of the District of Columbia public schools. Senator Bruce died on 17 March 1898 in Washington, DC and was interred in Woodlawn Cemetery in Washington, DC.

Blanche Kelso Bruce became the first African American U.S. Senator to serve a full six-year term.

The historic highway marker was proposed and sponsored by the African American Heritage Preservation Foundation, Inc. in Washington, D.C. The African American Heritage Preservation Foundation, Inc. (AAHPF), a not for profit 501©(3) organization, that is dedicated to the preservation of African American history and historical sites was established in June 1994. AAHPF has been primarily engaged in activities that include the preservation, maintenance, and awareness of endangered or little-known African American historical sites primarily in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast Regions.

Financial support was also provided by Longwood University and Hampden-Sydney College. Funds for new highway markers come from private organizations, individuals, and local jurisdictions.

The Virginia highway marker program is one of the oldest in the nation. Currently there are 2,000-plus official state markers, mostly installed and maintained by the Virginia Department of Transportation.

“Virginia's historical highway marker program for more than 75 years has been providing history lessons to the traveling public along Virginia's scenic roadways,” said recently retired Secretary of Natural Resources W. Tayloe Murphy, Jr. “These markers help educate the public about the important people, places, and events of our state and country's history.”

E. Renee Ingram
President and Founder
African American Heritage Preservation Foundation, Inc.
420 Seventh Street NW Suite 501
Washington, DC 20004-2211
Web Site: www.aahpfdn.org
E-mail: reneei@aol.com


Excerpts from THE NEW MAN Twenty-nine Years A Slave, Twenty-nine Years a Free Man
Recollections of H. C. Bruce
(Senator Blanche Kelso Bruce’s older brother)

…”Mrs. Prudence Perkinson and her son Lemuel, lived about one mile from our place, and they owned about fifty field hands, as they were called…”

...”In front of our old place, and in fact from Millers Store, a little village with a post-office, to Scofields, a similar place, a distance of ten miles, that old road was nearly on a straight line, was broad and almost level, and was the pride of that community; but when I saw it in July, 1893, and attempted with a horse and buggy to pass over it for a distance of a few miles I found it impassable. From John Queensbury's Public Inn and Camping ground to our old home, a distance of three miles the old road has been entirely obliterated.

I visited the home of Mrs. Sarah Perkinson, widow of Lemuel Perkinson, mentioned in a previous chapter, but did not see her, as she had left a few days prior on a visit to relatives in North Carolina. I was really sorry I did not see her, for I could have obtained much valuable information from her, as she had remained in that community ever since the year 1849, and could have given me an interesting history of past events. She still owns the old Perkinson farm consisting of about two thousand acres. The old frame mansion which was built before 1841 was still there and in a fair state of preservation, and without any apparent change since I last saw it forty-four years ago. I found old man, Major Perkinson, one of Mrs. Perkinson’s former slaves, occupying the Great House and tilling the land. There were about fifty acres under cultivation; the balance had grown wild. The old Major who is now ninety years of age and quite active, remembered me very well and proceeded to treat me like a southern gentleman of the old school would have done. I next visited our old home which was one mile away. Here I found the great house, also a frame building, built in the summer of 1842, in a good state of preservation, and as I went through every room I am sure that there had been but little change in its structure. I also visited the spot where my mother's cabin stood, and then how forcibly those lines of the poet touched my mind, "Childhood days now pass before me, forms and scenes of long ago,'' etc. The quarters for the colored people had disappeared here as well as those at Mrs. Perkinson's place. This place is now owned by a Yankee lady in New York, and of the six hundred acres under fence when we left it in 1849, only four acres are now in use, the balance having grown up in forest.

I visited several places of interest, and among them was Green Bay, about two miles north of our old home. Here I met Mr. Thomas Rowlett, the station agent, and one, Mr. Scott, and a merchant named Richardson, whose father I remembered. All three of these men are direct descendants of the "Blue Bloods," and I found them still defending the right. I was greatly impressed by a remark made by Mr. Richardson; he said, "We are now, and will be for the next twenty years, suffering from the curse of slavery; it cursed the slave, it cursed his master, it cursed the land." He then called attention to the thousands of acres gone wild, too poor to produce anything, and the owners were unable to bring them to a rentable condition, and the colored people could not make a living on them and of course, left the country in search of work. He said one could buy land anywhere in that community for three dollars per acre. Of course it will cost at least ten dollars more to bring it up to a fair state of cultivation. When I saw these fine lands in 1849, tilled by slave labor, and kept in the very highest state of cultivation, and on which splendid crops of tobacco, corn and wheat were raised, I could not have realized that in the space of forty-four years these same lands would be a wilderness, the owners scattered, and even the former slaves gone. But so it is, and the names of the people who owned them forgotten…”
 

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