Born into slavery in Prince Edward County, Virginia, Blanche Kelso Bruce (1841-1898) gained his freedom through the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. He dedicated much of the rest of his life to improving his country and his community, teaching at the first Black elementary school in Lawrence, Kansas, and helping to establish a school for Black children in Hannibal, Missouri.
After relocating to Mississippi in 1868, Bruce purchased a plantation on the Delta and became a wealthy landowner. His involvement in politics began around this time. Bruce served as the conductor of elections for his area in 1869 and was elected to his first position as the Sergeant at Arms of the Mississippi State Senate. By the end of 1871, he was appointed the assessor of taxes and superintendent of education for Bolivar County, elected county sheriff, and chosen to serve on the Floreyville Board of Aldermen.
In 1872, Bruce attended the Republican National Convention with James Hill, an influential leader in Mississippi and another formerly enslaved person. Two years later, with the support of Hill and his network, Bruce became the representative of Mississippi to the US Senate. As a Senator, Bruce was known as a sharp and effective politician who earned respect from his colleagues. He fought for a more enlightened policy towards Ingenious people, racial integration of the Army, and greater support for poor and recently freed African Americans, and he vocally opposed restrictions on Chinese immigration. When Bruce presided over the Senate in the absence of Vice President William Wheeler in 1879, and again in 1880, he became the first African American to do so.
The Democratic majority in Mississippi caused Bruce, a Republican, to lose his bid for reelection in 1880. Bruce remained in DC for the rest of his life and was appointed to several different positions by Presidents Garfield, Harrison, and McKinley, serving as Recorder of Deeds and Register of the Treasury. Bruce also served as Assistant Commissioner General of the 1884 World’s Fair in New Orleans and as a trustee of DC Public Schools and Howard University.
The historic designation of Bruce’s house recognizes his contributions to American history. Bruce lived in this Second Empire-style house built circa 1865, reflecting a popular style from that period, toward the end of his time in Congress.
DC Inventory: April 29, 1975
National Register: May 15, 1975
National Historic Landmark: May 15, 1975
Within Blagden Alley/Naylor Court Historic District