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First African American at Miami remembered

By Reis Thebault, Editor-in-chief

NEWS3

Peter Bruner accomplished a lot in his 93-year life.

He was born into slavery in Clark County, Kentucky and throughout his early life, tried several times to escape, finally succeeding in 1864 when he enrolled in the Union army.

After fighting in the Civil War, Bruner moved to Oxford, got married and eventually became the first African American to work at Miami University, where he met U.S. President William Howard Taft. He then wrote all about it in his humble autobiography, "A Slave's Adventures Toward Freedom."

To kick off Historic Preservation Month, several city organizations are sponsoring guided walking tours, the first of which is tomorrow and will focus largely on Bruner's life and African American history.

Valerie Elliott, the manager of Smith Library of Regional History, is leading tomorrow's tour. She said the walking tours aim to draw attention to Oxford's history. And Bruner's life, she said, reaches far beyond the city limits.

"Not only was Peter Bruner's life story unique in Oxford's history, it was also published and provides readers today with a firsthand account of slavery," she said.

While writing his book, Bruner had this potential impact in mind.

"In this book I have given the actual experiences of my own life," he said in his autobiography's introduction. "I thought in putting it in this form it might be of some inspiration to struggling men and women."

Bruner died in 1938 and, shortly before his death, the city named him "Mayor for a Day," Elliott said.

"Though my life has been one of many hardships, I feel there awaits for me a crown of righteousness, and I shall have rest forever more," Bruner wrote.

Tomorrow's tour is free and will meet at 10:30 a.m. in front of Elm Street Christian Church. Bruner's great-great-grandson is expected to join the tour. There will be guided tours of Oxford's historic neighborhoods each Saturday morning this month.

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