THIS MONTH IN HISTORY
On February 14 of 1961, B.K. Bruce of Mississippi became the first African American to preside over the US senate.
Bruce’s advocacy for African Americans was most evident in issues affecting black war veterans. He was a staunch defender of black servicemen, promoting integration of the armed forces and fair treatment. On April 10, 1878, he unsuccessfully attempted to desegregate the U.S. Army, citing the U.S. Navy as a precedent. Two years later, Bruce delivered a speech asking the War Department to investigate the brutal hazing of black West Point cadet Johnson C. Whittaker. The following year, he supported legislation that prevented discrimination against the heirs to black soldiers’ Civil War pensions. He also submitted a bill in 1879 to distribute money unclaimed by black Civil War soldiers to five African–American colleges. As the bill gained publicity, however, more claimants came forward and depleted the fund. The Senate Committee on Education and Labor eventually reported against the bill.
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