From Publishers Weekly
Buried within this account of a black family that includes "a United States senator; a bank president; [and] a Washington socialite" is a rags to riches to welfare tale that ought to intrigue, but merely bores. Slave-born Blanche K. Bruce (1841–1898) was the first African-American to serve a full term in the United State Senate (1874–1880). Having obtained wealth in addition to political clout in Mississippi, he acquired elite class status through his marriage to Josephine Willson, daughter of a wealthy dentist whose freeborn roots extended back to the late 18th century. The first half of this repetitious family biography focuses largely on Bruce's political life, the second on his son Roscoe, who after a stint at Tuskegee returns to Washington as superintendent of "Colored Schools." The family spirals through a decline that finds Roscoe managing an apartment complex in Harlem and his sons jailed for fraud. In tracing the fortunes of the clan, Graham (Our Kind of People: Inside America's Black Upper Class
) allows an absorption with class status to obscure fresher areas, such as Blanche Bruce's involvement in the serious work of the black women's club movement. (July)
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In 1878, the Times ran its first wedding announcement for a black couple: Senator Blanche Kelso Bruce, a former slave who entered the Senate in the fading days of Reconstruction (many newspapers ignored his election, assuming that he would never be seated), and Josephine Willson, a daughter of the light-skinned black élite. The Bruces established what the author calls America's first black dynasty, although its members "lived much of their lives outside of black circles." Graham, whose "Our Kind of People" profiled the black upper class, recovers the history of a family that broke barriers in Washington and at Exeter and Harvard. At the same time, he offers a devastating view of the compromises it made. The Bruces' son was an "intellectual dandy" and snob who described a black revival meeting as "a reversion into barbarism." When the family, "after years of favoring . . . white acquaintances" over "accomplished black men," was engulfed in scandal, it found that it had few allies in either community.
Copyright © 2006 The New Yorker
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