Capitol Men by Philip Dray
The Epic Story of Reconstruction Through the Lives of the First BlackCongressmen

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In this grand and compelling new history of Reconstruction, Philip Dray shines a light on a little known group of men: the nation's first black members of Congress. Neglected by most historians, these individuals—some of whom were former slaves—played a critical role in pushing for much-needed reforms in the wake of a traumatic civil war, including equal rights, public education, and protection from Klan violence. Most important, their example laid the foundation for future black political leaders.   Drawing on archival documents, newspaper coverage, and congressional records, he shows that P.B.S. Pinchback (who started out as a riverboat gambler), Robert Smalls (who hijacked a Confederate steamer and delivered it to Union troops), and Robert Brown Elliot (who bested the former vice president of the Confederacy in a stormy debate on the House floor) were eloquent, creative, and often quite effective—they were simply overwhelmed by the forces of Southern reaction and Northern indifference. Covering the fraught period between the Emancipation Proclamation and Jim Crow, Dray reclaims the reputations of men who, though flawed, led a valiant struggle for social justice.

About Philip Dray

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PHILIP DRAY is the author of At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The Lynching of Black America, which won the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award and made him a Pulitzer Prize finalist, and Stealing God's Thunder: Benjamin Franklin's Lightning Rod and the Invention of America, and the coauthor of the New York Times Notable Book We Are Not Afraid: The Story of Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney, and the Civil Rights Campaign for Mississippi. He lives in Brooklyn.
Published February 11, 2010 by Mariner Books. 480 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Political & Social Sciences, War. Non-fiction

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In that light, Dray writes sympathetically but critically of Andrew Johnson, the Unionist Southerner, “a stubborn loner never adept at conciliatory politics,” under whose watch Reconstruction disintegrated.

Sep 16 2008 | Read Full Review of Capitol Men: The Epic Story o...

The New York Times

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Some areas in the South enforced Black Codes, which set curfews for blacks, barred them from militias and regulated their private conduct.

Sep 26 2008 | Read Full Review of Capitol Men: The Epic Story o...

The New York Times

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South Carolina elected blacks to the House of Representatives, including Robert Smalls, a former slave and Civil War hero who endorsed free public education for all children, and Richard Cain, who emphasized black economic opportunities.

Sep 26 2008 | Read Full Review of Capitol Men: The Epic Story o...

Bookmarks Magazine

Drawing on archival documents, contemporary news accounts, and congressional records, he shows how the efforts of black Americans revealed their political perceptiveness and readiness to serve as voters, citizens, and elected officials.
We meet men like the war hero Robert Smalls of South ...

Sep 21 2008 | Read Full Review of Capitol Men: The Epic Story o...

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