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(1905) Roscoe Conkling Bruce, “Freedom Through Education”

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Roscoe Conkling Bruce, born in 1879, was the only son of U.S. Senator Blanche K. Bruce and his wife Josephine. He attended Phillips Exeter and graduated from Harvard Phi Beta Kappa in 1902. Bruce became an educator. From 1903 to 1906 he supervised Tuskegee Institute’s Academic Department. Afterwards he assumed the post of principal of Armstrong Manual Training High School. Bruce, supported by Booker T. Washington, eventually rose to the post of Assistant Superintendent in charge of the Colored Schools of the District of Columbia, a position he held until 1924. Despite his own elite education, Bruce’s advocacy of industrial education for black students put him at odds which much of Washington, D.C. African American leadership. Selected to give a Memorial Day address at Harvard in 1905, Bruce describes his views on the role of education for African Americans.

We gather to commemorate the resolute and faithful men who fought and fell in the Civil War for nationality and free institutions. Now and then it is urged that the North fought to free the slave; but, looking back over the years, can we say that was all that the men whose names are written upon these walls—Shaw, and Lowell, and Pickering—died for? It was not merely the Sorrow Songs of the plantation and swamp, the anguished cry of fugitive slave, the burning eloquence of Frederick Douglass—it was not so much pity as nationality and Anglo-Saxon ideals and institutions that impelled your heroes to strike the fetters from the toiling slave. Your soldiers recognized the fact that fundamental Americanism demands the free play of each individual’s best powers in the service of the community. In the interest of social justice, national economy, free institutions, human nature itself, your heroes fought to set my people free.

In camps and fields many a New England soldier with the blue-black spelling book on his knees, had clumsily taught black soldiers and contrabands the first hand

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