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Capitol Men: The Epic Story of…
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Capitol Men: The Epic Story of Reconstruction Through the Lives of the…

by Philip Dray

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From the title, Capitol Men, I was simply prepared for biographies of the men pictured on the cover; this book is anything but an uncomplicated compendium of the first Black politicians joining in on the franchise of American government.

Philip Dray does more than just recount and tally achievements during the political careers of these men, he provides much needed context of the time and culture to allow the reader to appreciate just how tumultuous the time of Reconstruction was.

Be prepared to have your knowledge of history turned on its head! Rosa Parks was not the first person to spark outrage over seating on mass transit. In the 1860s, Robert Smalls (Philadelphia) and P.B.S. Pinchback (New Orleans) both gained press coverage when they fought segregation. The first federal civil rights legislation was not passed in the 1950s. Rep. Robert Brown Elliott spoke as an elected official in favor of the bill in 1874. Two suffrage movements, one of blacks, the other of women were not always united. The likes of Susan B. Anthony were apparently more concerned with gender over race in the struggle for voting rights.

It is quipped that the South, in spite of losing the Civil War, wrote the war's history. With this in mind, it is no wonder, that any achievements of Reconstruction, no matter how short lived, are seen as bungling and ineffective. Capitol Men proves that common knowledge is not always correct; honest history cannot belie the fact that Democrats defeated efforts of Reconstruction and the Republicans through violence, murder and politics. ( )
  HistReader | Nov 20, 2011 |
An understandable and thorough look at a very chaotic time. By concentrating on the first black congressmen, it provided a human focus to the book. That also means that those states with black majorities, South Carolina, Mississippi, and Louisiana received the most attention. It's a piece of American history that is often skipped over with a summary dismissal but one that is crucial to understanding today's world. ( )
  snash | Aug 10, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0618563709, Hardcover)

Reconstruction was a time of idealism and sweeping change, as the victorious Union created citizenship rights for the freed slaves and granted the vote to black men. Sixteen black Southerners, elected to the U.S. Congress, arrived in Washington to advocate reforms such as public education, equal rights, land distribution, and the suppression of the Ku Klux Klan.
But these men faced astounding odds. They were belittled as corrupt and inadequate by their white political opponents, who used legislative trickery, libel, bribery, and the brutal intimidation of their constituents to rob them of their base of support. Despite their status as congressmen, they were made to endure the worst humiliations of racial prejudice. And they have been largely forgotten—often neglected or maligned by standard histories of the period.
In this beautifully written book, Philip Dray reclaims their story. 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 Carolina (who had stolen a Confederate vessel and delivered it to the Union navy), Robert Brown Elliott (who bested the former vice president of the Confederacy in a stormy debate on the House floor), and the distinguished former slave Blanche K. Bruce (who was said to possess “the manners of a Chesterfield”). As Dray demonstrates, these men were eloquent, creative, and often effective representatives who, as support for Reconstruction faded, were undone by the forces of Southern reaction and Northern indifference.
In a grand narrative that traces the promising yet tragic arc of Reconstruction, Dray follows these black representatives’ struggles, from the Emancipation Proclamation to the onset of Jim Crow, as they fought for social justice and helped realize the promise of a new nation.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:00:36 -0400)

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Pulitzer Prize finalist Philip Dray shines a light on a little known group of men: the nation's first black members of Congress. These men played a critical role in pushing for much-needed reforms in the wake of a traumatic civil war, including public education for all children, equal rights, and protection from Klan violence. But they have been either neglected or maligned by most historians -- their "glorious failure" chalked up to corruption and "ill-preparedness."--From publisher description.… (more)

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