Slave, Politician and 21st Century Inspiration
|Bruce's rise from slavery to prominence in U.S. history inspired Rob Madden to start a scholarship to assit UCM students in achieving their dreams
When Rob Madden '05 graduated from Central Missouri with a bachelor's degree in political science and priceless insight into his own heritage, he created the Blanche Kelso Bruce Scholarship to honor the legacy of one of his own ancestors and to encourage young people to make a difference.
Madden created the scholarship after tracing his family's roots to Bruce, the first African-American elected to the U.S. Senate during the post-Civil War reconstruction era. As he prepared to enter the field of education, Madden felt creating a scholarship in the name of one of American's most inspirational African-Americans was an appropriate way to honor his ancestor's legacy while providing opportunities for future students.
Madden became a teacher when a nephew began experiencing problems in ninth grade. He currently teaches history at Hogan Preparatory Academy, a Kansas City charter school sponsored by UCM. He travels after school each day to Washington High School in Kansas City, KS, to coach his nephew's team in wrestling, a sport Madden participated in at UCM.
He began researching African-American history as a student in UCM's Africana Studies program, from which he was the first to graduate. When the details in the history began to match his grandmother's stories, he realized the importance of Bruce's legacy, not only to his country but to his family.
"I began to learn about Blanche Kelso Bruce when Dr. Yvonne Johnson loaned me a copy of the book Black Aristocrats,” Madden said. "Blanche Kelso Bruce and his wife were on the cover of the book. I know the story of his successes inspired me, and I think it's a story that young African-Americans need to hear today"
The youngest of 11 children, Bruce was born in 1841 in Virginia. An intelligent and ambitious child, he was educated by the tutor hired to teach his master's son. He escaped slavery at the beginning of the Civil War by fleeing to Kansas, where he attended Oberlin College. He later purchased an abandoned Mississippi plantation, amassing a real estate fortune.
In 1874 Bruce became the first African-American to be elected to the U.S. Senate by popular vote. As a Republican representing Mississippi, he advocated civil rights for African-Americans, Chinese immigrants and even former Confederates.
In September 2002, the U.S. Senate unveiled a portrait of Bruce in the Old Senate Chamber in Washington, D.C. In attendance was one of Bruce's relatives, Norma Rozell of Kansas City.
During Madden's junior year at UCM, his uncle, Kansas City author and journalist Phil Dixon, encouraged him to attend an event where he could meet Rozell.
"She's the family historian,” Madden said. "It was through her that I have learned a great deal about our family's connection to Bruce. She had the details that helped me determine that he is my great-grandmother's great-uncle. We're still doing research on even more family connections"
Photos of Blanche Kelso Bruce and Bruce's mother are displayed in Madden's classroom. Madden tells the story of Bruce's rise from slavery to prominence in U.S. history as an example of what can be accomplished with vision and determination. He believes it's a valuable lesson for his students, although some initially have a hard time relating to the world in which Bruce made his mark on history.
"That's why I felt it was important to start the scholarship,” Madden said.
He made an initial donation of $500, hoping that others will contribute toward the $10,000 needed to endow it. Interested donors should contact the UCM Foundation, 660-543-8000 or by email at email@example.com.
— Mike Greife '74
Announcing the Blanche Kelso Bruce Scholarship in Africana Studies established with the generosity of Rob Madden, the first Africana Studies minor graduate at CMSU
TIAA-CREF Ruth Simms Hamilton Research Fellowship