The Bates College Athletics department recently published an article featuring six Black student-athletes in the college’s early years. A photograph of one of the students, Thomas Bruce, also appears in the Maine State Museum’s collections.
This photographic portrait shows Thomas Bruce (1871–1913) while he was a student at Bates College. It was taken at the Flagg and Plummer Lewiston photography studio in 1898, Bruce’s senior year. His older brother, Nathaniel Coleman Bruce, also attended Bates.
Thomas Bruce stood out for his impressive skills as a football player and in track and field. After Bates, Bruce went on to Newton Theological Institution, where he earned a divinity degree.
In this photo from Bates College, Bruce is pictured with the 1897 Bates football team. Bruce is standing third from left. Photograph courtesy of Bates Athletics.
Bruce used his skills as an orator to speak out against racism. He also made use of the legal system to fight prejudice. In 1901, he challenged a Harvard Square barber who refused to shave him. The court ruled in Bruce’s favor and fined the barber $20 for discrimination.
Bruce was ordained at historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Boston in 1901. He did not remain in the North, but moved to North Carolina and Virginia to work as a pastor and teacher. His interest in football carried on to his professional life, where he used sports analogies to communicate his ideas to the public.