Senator Blanche K. Bruce
December 16, 2002 10:25 PM   Subscribe

Senator Blanche K. Bruce was the first black person to serve a full term in the United States Senate (representing Mississippi from 1875 to 1881), and the first person born into slavery to preside over the Senate. The Senate Commission on Art recently unveiled a newly-acquired portrait of this determined leader.
posted by oissubke (17 comments total)
a dude named blanche? NOW i've seen everything.
posted by donkeyschlong at 12:32 AM on December 17, 2002

Looks like Pavarotti to me...

....hey, look how far we've come in 120 years: nowadays, 'black' people can become cabinet ministers....
posted by dash_slot- at 12:32 AM on December 17, 2002

An excellent reminder that, despite the U.S. history textbook official line that the story of the U.S. is one of unrelenting progress and righting of wrongs, history in fact sometimes goes backwards, and tolerance and idealism ebb and flow. In the post-Civil War period there was considerable optimism about racial harmony that later gave way to Jim Crow laws and disenfranchisement of black Americans in southern and border states.
Good post, oissubke.
posted by planetkyoto at 12:33 AM on December 17, 2002

The quote marks, dash, distasteful.
posted by planetkyoto at 12:48 AM on December 17, 2002

dash_slot-, not only that, but a black person can become Majority Leader of the Senate.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 12:58 AM on December 17, 2002

The quote marks, dash, distasteful.

Yea, really... what is that supposed to mean?

Anyway, I think it also goes to show you what a good old- fashioned education can do for a person, even in the face of great adversity.

I had never heard of this guy until now. I like it when history surprises me.
posted by Witty at 1:01 AM on December 17, 2002

I love the portrait - it captures Bruce as he probably was, a highly intelligent man of iron determination.
posted by orange swan at 6:59 AM on December 17, 2002

Bruce is buried in D.C.'s abandoned and long-neglected Woodlawn Cemetery, along with a host of other African-American notables. The property is barely recognizable as a burial ground these days, but a number of small community groups are fighting to save it from being entirely overgrown.
posted by ryanshepard at 7:08 AM on December 17, 2002

Okay, I'll grant manish but how does one derive intelligence or determination from a portrait?
posted by xiffix at 7:54 AM on December 17, 2002

The same way it's possible to derive it from someone's appearance. Have you never seen a determined expression on someone's face?
posted by orange swan at 8:16 AM on December 17, 2002

On the name... "Blanche" is a form of the French term for "white". Interesting.

On the portrait, it's a lovely work. Something about the coloring and knife work remind me of Joe Sorren's work. Not sure, what, though... hm.
posted by silusGROK at 9:52 AM on December 17, 2002

It's the feminine form of "white", in particular. He should properly be Blanc K. Bruce. Other than that, good for him for becoming a senator.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 10:32 AM on December 17, 2002

(Pseudo... that is unless it's an accentless form of the past-participle of the verb "blancher", in which case it is masculine. : ) )
posted by silusGROK at 11:01 AM on December 17, 2002

Whitened K. Bruce? That sounds like a candidate for this thread. ;D
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 12:57 PM on December 17, 2002

Personally, I liked this part:

Blanche Bruce's Senate service got off to a sour start when Mississippi's other senator, James Alcorn, refused to escort him to take his oath of office. As Bruce started down the aisle alone, New York Republican Roscoe Conkling moved to his side and completed the journey to the rostrum. Bruce later named his only son after Conkling.

I happened across his biography after noticing the portrait announcement on the Senate site -- hadn't heard of him previously, so I did some Googling and came up with some interesting biographical information. He was, for example, a sheriff, which inevitably brought Blazing Saddles to mind. :-)

Like Witty, I like it when history surprises me. There are a lot of great men and women out there who have survived only as footnotes, only because the history books simply aren't big enough to mention everyone.
posted by oissubke at 1:47 PM on December 17, 2002

Too bad the modern Republican party strayed so badly from its early ideals:

Blacks know GOP strays from 'party of Lincoln' claim

By Roland S. Martin

The reactions of Republican politicians and their mouthpieces to Sen. Trent Lott's pro-segregation remarks have been revealing. They can't defend this top party leader, so they rush to make all the usual talking points about Republicans in general: The GOP is the party of Abraham Lincoln; more Republicans supported civil-rights legislation in the 1960s than Democrats; the GOP cares most about issues paramount to African-Americans, such as school choice. Lott himself tried to harp on school choice as a compelling reason to keep him in his leadership post during his appearance Monday on Black Entertainment Television.

The rhetoric sounds wonderful, but it is disingenuous to paint the Republican Party as amenable to African-Americans when the evidence is stacked against it.

Today's GOP is not the same one led by Lincoln, so trying to link the two is a waste of time. True, Republicans backed civil-rights legislation while some Democrats were blocking school doorways. But when the Democratic Party began to embrace the civil-rights movement, segregationist Democrats found a new political niche: the GOP, which at the time was undergoing a conservative metamorphosis. Those angry, bigoted Democrats found the Republican Party a willing place to set up shop.

Conservative commentators have suggested that Democrats jumped on the Lott controversy because racial polarization will work to their political advantage. But the Democratic Party didn't devise the "Southern Strategy," a political plan established by GOP President Richard Nixon to pit African-Americans against white Southerners incensed at the federal government for upsetting the way business was done in the South. What did the strategy get the party of Lincoln? Nearly 30 years of overwhelming support by white voters — and virtually no love from African-Americans.

posted by fold_and_mutilate at 5:59 PM on December 17, 2002

Oh, and in the spirit of what I'm just sure was oissubke's nonpartisan attempt to provide a completely nonpartisan history lesson (what with racist Republican Trent Lott getting basted), let's provide some more names:

Shirley Chisholm - first African American woman elected to Congress, first African American woman to be a candidate for United States presidency representing a major political party.

Andrew Young - first African American elected to Congress in deep South since 1901, first African American ambassador to United Nations.

Carl B. Stokes - first African American elected mayor of a major U.S. city.

Tom Bradley - first African American mayor of Los Angeles.

Sharon Pratt Kelly - first African American mayor of Washington D.C.

L. Douglas Wilder - first African American elected to be a state governor.

David Dinkins - first African American mayor of New York City.

Carol Moseley-Braun - first African American woman elected to United States Senate.

Willie L. Brown - first African American speaker of California Assembly.

Earl Hilliard - first African American elected to Congress from Alabama since 1877.

Barbara Jordan - first African American woman elected to Congress from a southern state.

And so on....

posted by fold_and_mutilate at 1:07 PM on December 18, 2002

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