I’ve never been a fan of the University of Kansas and the Jayhawks. However, in my family research I’ve found a connection to it that has softened my view. Heck, I might even go out and buy a (gulp) KU shirt. Let me explain…
The first black student to graduate from the University of Kansas was Blanche Ketene Bruce, my 1st cousin 3x removed. He wasn’t the first black student enrolled there. He was, however the first to graduate, coming out in 1885 with a degree in his hand. That’s 129 years ago!
After graduating from the University of Kansas, Professor Bruce (he later earned a Master’s degree in education) began working as principal at the Sumner School in Leavenworth, Kansas. Sumner School was a segregated school for elementary grades. He served there as principal for 54 years, until his retirement in 1939. During his tenure, he spent at least 40 years as a tutor and mentor for young men wishing to become cadets at West Point and Annapolis. Many officers from nearby Fort Leavenworth enlisted the aid of Professor Bruce to prepare their sons for the rigorous testing they would encounter on their entrance exams. Nearly 1800 young men were tutored by Bruce, and of those 1800 only three failed their exams.
The contributions of Blanche Ketene Bruce to the education of African American children in the early 19th century and his connection (nephew) to the first African American to serve a full term in the United States Senate (Blanche Kelso Bruce) were key factors in placing Sumner School on the National Register of Historic Places.
(The information in this post and more can be found by visiting the Kansas Historical Society.)