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Dedication Ceremony honoring ex-slave Blanche Kelso Bruce, 1st Black senator to serve a full term

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