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Professor Bruce

11 Comments

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!

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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.)

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11 thoughts on “Professor Bruce

  1. Sadly the Sumner School sits vacant and continues to decay. There hasn’t been any type of effort to garner community interest nor publishing of any plans for the building. It’s fine for it to be on the National Historic Register but an unused building simply deteriorates.

  2. It makes me sad to hear that. Since you live in Leavenworth, can you tell me if that seems to be a pattern in the community there? Leavenworth is a historical town. Are there other places of historical interest suffering from the same type of neglect?

  3. Hello. Compared to many other cities in Kansas and Missouri, Leavenworth’s historical places are fairly well-preserved. Though there are a handful of sites that still need work. I knew a man who attended your cousin’s (B. K. Bruce) school. His name was Benjamin Leroy “Roy” Love and he lived until he 104. His family, like your cousin’s, escaped slavery in Missouri and settled in Leavenworth. Roy mentions your cousin in one of the videos I posted to Youtube. It was taken when Roy was about 100 years old in 1990. This is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eO4hR6L-4ws . I am pretty sure it is there, but if it is not, there are two other videos to check. This is Roy’s Find a Grave memorial: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=81454578 .

  4. Thank you so much for sharing the videos of Roy. I wish I had the privilege of knowing him. I loved hearing him sing! It makes me sad that he doesn’t have a grave marker. Do you know if that is still the case?

  5. I just sent off the paperwork to get him a VA headstone (see article below). I have not heard back yet, but I am pretty hopeful. If it does not get approved, I will start a crowd-funding campaign. No matter what happens with Roy’s tombstone though, I will need to crowd-fund to get his wife one. Luckily, the cemetery makes it and it is only about $400.00. My email is mlob0706@yahoo.com. http://www.leavenworthtimes.com/article/20140822/NEWS/140829703?template=printart

    • Please continue to keep me informed as to the progress of Roy’s VA headstone. I read the article in the Leavenworth Times, and was very touched by your dedication to Roy’s story. I think it’s so important that he and his wife both have headstones. A hundred years from now, due to efforts like yours, someone will be able to stand at their graves and know they mattered to someone. If it were fiscally possible,I would probably buy markers for lots of people and become known as the headstone fairy…that’s how important I believe grave markers to be. Thank you for all that you are doing!

  6. If those headstones are not done at this time, Please contact me.

  7. I spoke with Margaret a couple of weeks ago. I’m going to send a friend request to you on Facebook and add you to the Descendants of Polly Bruce page. I look forward to meeting you, cousin!

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