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Bruce, John Edward(1856–1924) - Journalist, historian, orator, politician, Chronology, Earns Prominence as Journalist

washington bruce’s negro sunday

The life of John Edward Bruce was marked by perseverance and fortitude. Born a slave, Bruce rose from humble beginnings on a plantation in Piscataway, Mary-land, to an adulthood in which he corresponded with friends and activists throughout Africa, the Caribbean, Central and South America, the Philippines, and Europe. While some found manumission by escaping or at the mercy of their masters, others never obtained complete liberation from slavery because they had internalized beliefs of their racial inferiority. For Bruce, however, freedom lay in his pen. With this weapon, he railed against imperialism and slavery, writing searing articles and editorials for more than 100 newspapers worldwide. Championing the proponents of cultural nationalism, he was a stalwart race man who attacked Reconstruction, Jim Crowism, lynching, the vacillations of the Republican Party, and the accommodationist stance of Booker T. Washington. Due to his aggressive, matter-of-fact writing style, he affectionately became known as “Bruce Grit,” his most widely known pseudonym.


1856 Born in Piscataway, Maryland on February 22

1864 Enters integrated school in Stratford, Connecticut

1874 Works as messenger for the New York Times at the Washington, D.C. office

1875 Works as Washington correspondent fo the Progressive American

1880 Publishes the Sunday Item , the first black-owned Sunday newspaper in the United States

1895 Marries Florence Bishop

1897 Founds the American Negro Academy with Alexander Crummell

1911 Founds the Negro Society for Historical Research with Arthur Schomburg

1916 Publishes novel The Awakening of Hezekiah Jones: A Story Dealing with Some of the Problems Affecting the Political Rewards Due the Negro

1919 Joins Universal Negro Improvement Association

1924 Dies in New York City on August 7

At three years of age, Bruce became fascinated with race. At that time, Bruce’s father, Robert Bruce, was sold to slave owners in Georgia. He was never to hear from or see his father again. His mother, Martha Bruce, then served as his sole caretaker. Martha, having agreed to provide her master, Major Thomas Harvey Griffin, with half of her earnings, worked as tavern cook at Fort Washington, approximately one mile from their plantation, and sold goods to U.S. Marines in exchange for their used clothes which she later stockpiled and sold as a part of a secondhand clothing business she operated. As the Civil War approached, Bruce witnessed countless numbers of his playmates and their families sold into slavery, a fate he dreaded. Martha feared the same, and in 1861, she and her children (Bruce’s brother died shortly thereafter) joined the band of Union soldiers, after the first battle of Bull Run, as they marched through Maryland to Washington, D.C. Based on these early memories, Bruce wrote a fictional account of a slave trade in 1916, entitled The Awakening of Hezekiah Jones: A Story Dealing with Some of the Problems Affecting the Political Rewards Due the Negro .

After three years in Washington, D.C., Martha moved her family to Stratford, Connecticut. There Bruce entered an integrated school and was first introduced to formal education. The family lived in Stratford briefly, returning to Washington after two years. In Washington, Bruce enrolled at the Free Library School and schools operated by the Freedman’s Aid Society and the Freedman’s Bureau. Although Bruce applied himself, these new schools afforded him only basic skills. In 1872, he took a three-month course at Howard University, but after the course, he never pursued formal education again. Thereafter, he relied primarily on informal means of schooling and was mostly self-taught.

Earns Prominence as Journalist

While Bruce wrote various pamphlets, poetry, plays, songbooks, essays, and several books over his career, he is best known for his work as a journalist. Living in Washington after the Civil War, where he earned odd jobs around the city to augment his mother’s income from her work at restaurants and as a domestic in private homes, Bruce met famous individuals who sparked his interests in culture and politics. These individuals included Charles Dickens, Martin R. Delany, and Henry Highland Garnet.

In 1874, when he was only eighteen years old, Bruce earned a job as a messenger for L. L. Crouse, associate editor at the New York Times Washington office and brother of the Nebraska governor. Bruce’s duties required that he obtain communications for the next day’s paper from Senator Charles Sumner, the author of the 1875 Civil Rights Act prohibiting racial discrimination in public facilities. In this capacity, Bruce developed a personal relationship with Sumner, who was regarded highly in the African American community, but Bruce was also able to speak with many members of Congress who visited Crouse’s office. Given this exposure, Bruce was hired in 1875 as a special Washington correspondent for the Progressive American in New York. His first article, titled “Distillation of Coal Tar,” was published under the pseudonym, “The Rising Sun.” Frederick Douglass was apparently so moved by Bruce’s writing that he made him a correspondent for the New National Era , where he assumed another pseudonym, “Caleb Quotem.” With these publications, Bruce’s writing career was effectively launched.

In the subsequent years, assuming the pseudonym “Bruce Grit,” Bruce contributed to dozens of newspapers, most notably the Weekly Argus and the Sunday Item , both of which he founded. Printed in 1879, the editors of the Weekly Argus , Bruce and Charles N. Otley, decided that the paper would “be a fearless advocate of the true principles of the Republican Party, and the moral and intellectual advancement of the Negro American,” according to William Seraille’s book, Bruce Grit: The Black Nationalist Writings of John Edward Bruce . The following year, in 1880, the Sunday Item became the first black-owned Sunday newspaper in the United States. Also of significance were Bruce’s contributions to the African Times and Orient Review , beginning in 1910, which detailed the heroism and valor of black, African, and West Indian troops in World War I. Printed in London, England, the periodical was edited by Duse Mohammed Ali.

Bruce, Kathleen (Eveleth) (1885–1950) - U.S. History [next] [back] Brubeck, Dave (originally David Warren)

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