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Blanche K. Bruce in Reconstruction

Blanche K. Bruce (1841-1898) was a black senator representing Mississippi during Reconutruction, becoming the first African-American politician ever to serve a full term in the U.S. Senate (1875-1881). Bruce was a light-skinned mulatto, born in Prince Edward County, Virginia, to an enslaved black mother and a white planter father. After the Civil War broke out and their master moved his plantation to Missouri, Bruce and his two brothers escaped to the city of Hannibal and unsuccessfully tried to enlist in the Union army. He became supervisor of Mississippi elections in 1869, and held a number of state positions through which he earned enough money to purchase a plantation in Floreyville, Mississippi. The Republican-controlled state legislature elected Bruce to the Senate in 1874.

During his single term, Bruce advocated equal treatment for both blacks and Native Americans, opposed the movement to exclude Chinese immigrants, and sought better navigation on the Mississippi River. At the end of his term, he realized that he could not get reelected since Reconstruction had ended and whites were reclaiming control over the southern states. He spent the rest of his life in Washington, D.C. with his wife, serving in a series of federal posts. Bruce's achievement would not be equaled until 1972, nearly 100 years later, when Edward William Brooke III (R-MA) finished his first term in the Senate.

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