February 9, 2011
NRAAC'S Eleven Part Black Republican History Series
A Sweet Embrace of Two Men of Different Colors, But of Kindred Spirits
The year was 1875. The Mississippi election of 1875 had been a violent one, filled with riots and bloodshed, as conservative white Democrats seized control of the state. It was one of the darkest days in the political history of Mississippi. It was the first time a former slave was elected to the United States Senate. As the ex-slave began his term, at that time it was the tradition of the United States Senate that when a new member of the Senate arrived to be sworn in, the senior senator from his state proudly escorted the new senator to his seat. However, this was not the case when the ex-slave and first African American Senator, Blanche Kelso Bruce was sworn in on March 5, 1875. His fellow Democratic senior Senator from the state of Mississippi, James L. Alcorn, refused to afford him this traditional honor of escorting him to his seat. Feeling totally alienated, while also retaining his self dignity, he proudly proceeded alone, when a most courageous and compassionate gesture was made by a Republican Senator from New York, by the name of Roscoe Conkling.
Senator Conkling, arose from his seat, joined the ex-slave, giving him a warm reception, as he dared to escort him to his seat. From that day forth, Senator Conkling and the African American senator from the state of Mississippi formed a brotherhood that defied racial boundaries and established a lasting bond of friendship that endeared them so closely to each other that they remained life long friends. Because of that friendship and brotherhood, Senator Bruce later named his son after Conkling, and Conkling took Bruce under his wings as he began to serve his first term in office.
In his upward political climb, Senator Bruce was the first African American to preside over the Senate in the absence of Vice President William A. Wheeler. However, sad to say, the Senator found many of his legislative efforts to bring equality to Blacks and Native Americans blocked and hindered by the 45th Congress, which reflected a shift in power occurring in the South, where white conservative Democrats were attempting to unseat Republicans, and especially Black Republicans elected during the earlier days of reconstruction. As a direct result of this, he was unable to get through legislation that would provide equality for Blacks and Native Indians, and eventually lost his powerful chairmanship for the Mississippi River Committee. But thanks to Republican leadership, again Bruce arose to regain his political prominence, during the Republican presidential administration of Benjamin Harrison, who appointed him to the position of Register of the Treasurer, where he served until his death in 1898, at the age of 57.
So many untold stories of this type lie buried in history; stories that tell of the heart-to-heart relationship Republicans had with African Americans dating back to slavery, and throughout the Reconstruction Era. Yet most African Americans and even Republicans do not know of those stories, or have forgotten them. Because of this, they have been replaced with myths and propaganda that divides and estranges African Americans from the once Grand Ole Party, of which from times passed, they shared and enjoyed such powerful and meaningful relations, and mutual embrace.
The NRAAC seeks to rebuild those relationships from the past, and to offer opportunities for the Grand Ole Party to once again enjoy meaningful relationships with those of color. In doing so, we seek to carry out the philosophy and mission set before President Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas to build a stronger and more inclusive Republican Party, where those guiding principles are more important than politics.