John E. Bruce


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(1856–1924), columnist, editor, essayist, historian, novelist, and orator.

Born a slave in Maryland, John Edward Bruce grew up in Washington, D.C. Developing an interest in journalism, he worked as a general helper in the office of the Washington correspondent for the New York Times in 1874. By the time Bruce was twenty he was writing for newspapers, using the pen name “Rising Sun”, and in 1879 he started his own paper, the Argus, in Washington, D.C. In 1884 Bruce began writing under the name “Bruce Grit” in the Cleveland Gazette and the New York Age, eventually becoming one of the most widely read and influential African American journalists of his era. In his writings and speeches, Bruce decried mixed-race marriages, denounced Euro-American imperialism, aggressively promoted race pride and solidarity, championed self-help, and advocated the study of black history to combat the anti-Negro rhetoric of the post-Reconstruction period.

Bruce served as a conduit linking people of African descent separated by age and geography. A prolific letter writer and a member of several African American organizations, including the Prince Hall Masons, the American Negro Academy, and the Negro Society for Historical Research, which he founded with Arthur A. Schomburg in 1911, Bruce knew key nineteenth-century figures such as Alexander Crummell and Edward Wilmot Blyden, met and corresponded with Africans who had studied in or visited the United States, and wrote for African periodicals and Duse Mohammed Ali's London-based African Times and Orient Review. He was one of Marcus Garvey's most important contacts when the Jamaican first came to America in 1916, introducing him to prominent people in New York, including W. E. B. Du Bois. Bruce held the title of Duke of Uganda in the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), wrote a weekly column for Garvey's Negro World beginning in 1918, became an important liaison between the UNIA and African organizations, and was given a hero's funeral at Harlem's Liberty Hall in a ceremony attended by more than five thousand people, at which Garvey spoke.

Ralph L. Crowder has suggested that Bruce represents a significant nationalist force in African American society at the turn of the century that was independent of the movements associated with Du Bois and Booker T. Washington. Crowder attributes Bruce's obscurity today to his refusal to court white recognition or approval. Bruce wrote Biographical Sketches of Eminent Negro Men and Women in Europe and the United States (1910) and The Awakening of Hezekiah Jones (1916), a novel about the political astuteness of African Americans that has received almost no critical attention, as well as several pamphlets about African American history and politics. He also wrote an early detective novel containing scenes set in Africa entitled The Black Sleuth, which appeared serially from 1907 to 1909 (John E. Bruce Papers, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York). Nearly fifty years after Bruce's death, some of his newspaper pieces and speeches were published in The Selected Writings of John Edward Bruce (1971), which helped to generate some short-lived critical interest in the author.


Subjects: Literature.

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