Feb 21, 2008 - Sale 2137

Sale 2137 - Lot 48

Price Realized: $ 19,200
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 30,000 - $ 40,000
A REMARKABLE BLACK RECONSTRUCTION ARCHIVE (SLAVERY AND ABOLITION--RECONSTRUCTION.) BRUCE, BLANCHE K[ELSO]. Large archive of correspondence received by Blanche K. Bruce as U.S. Senator. Over 600 pieces, including a number of letters from Bishop Benjamin Tucker Tanner; Reverend H. M. Turner, first man of color to be chaplain in the United States armed service; businessman and philanthropist George T. Downing; over one hundred letters seeking appointments, political favors, etc; several House Bills regarding the Mississippi River Improvement Commission; a long printed broadside by James Redpath outlining "A Policy For the Blacks--Letter to a Colored Mississippian--The Present Policy Discussed," letters regarding crimes and incidents of a racial nature. Most items are identified in a contemporary hand, some of which may be Bruce's. All are housed in mylar sleeves in eight large ring-binders. Two smaller archives within this lot contain documents, letters, and bills relative to Mrs. Josephine Bruce and son Roscoe Conklin Bruce. Condition generally very good. should be seen. Vp, 1869-1890

Additional Details

Blanche Kelso Bruce (1841-1898) Senator from Mississippi, was born in slavery near Farmville, Prince Edward County, Virginia. He was tutored by his master's son and left his master at the beginning of the Civil War. Bruce later taught school in Hannibal, Missouri and after the war moved to Mississippi where he became a planter and member of the Mississippi Levee Board. There are several items in the archive relative to the Mississippi River Improvement Commission. Bruce was sheriff and tax collector of Bolivar County from 1872-1875, and there are numerous letters, personal and political from J. E. Ousley, sheriff of Bolivar County relative to local appointments, etc. Bruce was elected as a Republican to the United States Senate, and served from March 4, 1875 to March 3, 1881--the first African American to serve a full term in the United States Senate. He was appointed Register of the Treasury by President James Garfield in 1881; recorder of deeds for the District of Columbia, 1891-1893; again Register of the Treasury from 1897 until his death in Washington, D.C., on March 17, 1898.

The present archive while not containing any of Bruce's out-going correspondence still provides a fascinating picture of the life of a black Reconstruction Senator. In addition to many letters seeking patronage, there are letters with excellent political content from some notable African-Americans of the day. The most common request for patronage is that of appointment to the Post Office, a valued position in the Reconstruction South. Others discuss diplomatic, census bureau and United States Marshall positions. There are letters from A. M. E. minister Benjamin T. Tanner touching on politics, among which Tanner discusses the possibility of Bruce as a vice-presidential candidate in 1880. In one of several letters, H. Milton Turner, the first African-American chaplain to serve in the Army of the United States writes to Bruce asking him to accompany him on a visit to the President. Many letters are quite humorous. Jonathan Leas, an old friend from Bolivar County asks for a position, saying that the old crowd has broken up and seeks "anything that will enable me to live here (New Orleans) . . . I have (strange to say) become tired of swamp life and bad whiskey."

If slavery is, as many have called it, America's "original sin," Reconstruction is unquestionably the baptism that failed. W. E. B. Du Bois, in his definitive history of the period, "Black Reconstruction," devotes a great deal of attention to Blanche Bruce and other black politicians and the concentrated effort by Southern Democrats and others to undo and unseat them.