C-SPAN Broadcasts Black History Month Event

Senate Historian Betty Koed talks with a guest.

On February 17, the U.S. Capitol Historical Society held its annual Black History Month Event, co-sponsored by the Illinois State Society. A distinguished panel of speakers discussed nineteenth-century black congressman, especially Sen. Blanche K. Bruce of Mississippi. C-SPAN recently broadcast portions of the event.

Rod Ross of the Illinois State Society introduced the panel, and then Historian of the House Matthew Wasniewski discussed overall trends among and a few highlights from the stories of nineteenth-century black Members of Congress. He noted that the first black senator, Hiram Revels of Mississippi, was often introduced as “the 15th Amendment personified,” and that Sen. Blanche K. Bruce chaired a committee during his time in the Senate.

Senate Historian Betty Koed shifted the spotlight to Blanche K. Bruce, covering his childhood in slavery and his early career, his first entrance to the Senate (when his fellow senator from Mississippi refused to accompany him to the front of the chamber, but Roscoe Conkling of NY did), and his work building alliances with other black politicians in Mississippi to support black citizens, including through patronage appointments. Koed ended by noting that modern scholarship tends to denigrate Bruce for being “too timid and accommodating” but that he was a “friend of presidents” and “an acknowledged leader among African Americans.” Despite living in an environment of serious racism, Bruce insisted that black men should be a full part of American society.

Senate Curator Melinda Smith discussed Simmie Knox, the artist who was selected to paint a portrait of Bruce in 2000. Smith recounted Knox’s biography, including elements of his childhood in sharecropping and his early encounters with art. As Knox worked on the portrait, of whom there are very few surviving images, a Matthew Brady photograph of Bruce emerged as a key source. Knox also considered other Brady portraits from the period to help him “bring the nineteenth century into the modern era.”

The event concluded with a question-and-answer session between audience members and the full panel. C-SPAN broadcast portions of the event a few weeks later, and it remains available on the C-SPAN Website. To see all USCHS events, search for “U.S. Capitol Historical Society.” See below for pictures from the event, and stayed tuned to the Calendar of Events for upcoming talks and other events.