Black Politicians During the Reconstruction Era

Written by PlayBack

By Marissa Johnson

PBS’s series “100 Amazing Facts about the Negro” presented the story of a governor who almost became a United States Senator. Before mentioning him, however, understanding one of his predecessors is also important.

Blanche K. Bruce, a Republican of Mississippi from 1875 to 1881 was a former slave. His mother’s master fathered him. Bruce was lucky enough to be educated alongside the master’s son. He joined the Confederate Army but fled to Missouri when some white men turned on black soldiers and started attacking them. While in Missouri, he opened the state’s first black school.

Blanche Bruce, in fact, was a tax assessor, the sheriff and the county superintendent in Bolivar County, Mississippi. What is even more remarkable is that he held these three offices at the same time.

P.B.S. Pinchback, a Louisianan, had a similar backstory as Bruce. He too had been fathered by a white slave master and was born to a black slave mother, but she was emancipated before she gave birth to Pinchback. Born Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback, his name is usually shortened in the history books.

Pinchback was of the elite class of black New Orleanians. He could “pass” for white if he so chose to, but he refused to deny his black mother, earning W.E.B. Dubois’s respect.

Pinchback was a recruiter for the Corps d’Afrique and even became Captain, but he quit after experiencing institutionalized racism. Later, he became the president pro tem of the Louisiana Senate. While serving as president pro tem, Oliver Dunn, Louisiana’s first black governor, died in office. So, Pinchback takes over in 1871. Later, he becomes interim governor for roughly one month amid unrest.

Pinchback, however, like many great men in history, was not without his sins. He was a corrupt governor who profited from his office. He was prone to speculation and insider trading and profited off public land deals.

Though Pinchback was said to have been as able to pass for a white man and looked as distinguished as Andrew Carnegie, his blackness was his political downfall. An elaborate scheme blocked him from being able to take his rightful United States Senate seat. Therefore, he is known in history as the black man who almost became senator.

Pinchback and Bruce shared not only their backgrounds of being raised by black slave mothers and fathered by white slave masters. They also distinguished themselves early on through military service. This seems to be evidence that, for a black man in that era, military service was seemingly essential for upward political mobility. Let’s not let the fact that neither man was fully black squash their achievements or the fact that they’re pioneers for achieving such great political success as black men.


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