Blanche Bruce becomes First African-American to Preside over U.S. Senate

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Blanche Kelso Bruce was born in 1841 to a house slave name Polly Bruce and a Virginia plantation owner named Pettis Perkinson, who educated him alongside his legitimate half brother. Considered the property of his father because of his mother’s slave status, his father set him free and set him up with an apprenticeship. He moved west and attended Oberlin College for two years. In 1864 he moved to Missouri, establishing a school for blacks. During reconstruction, he bought land in the Mississippi Delta becoming quite wealthy. He ran for various elected positions, ranging from tax collector to sheriff to supervisor of education. He also briefly edited the local newspaper. In 1874 he was elected to the Senate as a Republican, and would become the first African-American senator to serve a full term. On February 14, 1879 Bruce became the first African-American, and only former slave, to preside over the Senate. At the Republican National Convention the following year in Chicago, he won eight votes for vice president, becoming the first African-American to receive votes in any party’s nominating convention. He served in the Senate until 1881, after which President Garfield appointed him to be Register of the Treasury, meaning that his was the first African-American signature on American currency.

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