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Capitol Men: The Epic Story of Reconstruction Through the Lives of the First BlackCongressmen Hardcover – September 16, 2008

4.6 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. With this densely textured history of Reconstruction, Pulitzer Prize–finalist Dray (At the Hands of Persons Unknown) moves the first black congressmen—including Robert Brown Elliott, P.B.S. Pinchback and Hiram Revels—from the margins of American history and places their careers in an integrated context that includes not only the challenging world in which they lived [but] the stories of the men and women of both races whose actions affected their role. Particularly illuminating on local political history, Dray is equally attentive to broader issues (e.g., the rift between women's rights advocates and civil rights activists). Events frequently treated as separate African-American issues (e.g., the collapse of the Freedman's Bank, the legal entrenchment of separate but equal) are examined in the fuller milieu of contemporary history. The author asserts, [I]t is difficult to imagine another period in America's past as complex as Reconstruction, or one that has been more controversial in the telling. Dray's triumph is to have crafted a lucid and balanced narrative, thoroughly researched and well-documented to satisfy the scholarly, while consistently fascinating and fully accessible for the casual reader. (Sept.)
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“Absorbing … Dray devotes the majority of his pages to a significant minority: some of the first African Americans ever to serve in Congress. A few, such as Robert Smalls and Blanche K. Bruce, have been the subject of recent, thorough biographies. Others, such as Robert Brown Elliott and John Roy Lynch, emerge here as fascinating figures deserving full-length studies.” The Washington Post

“Dray casts fresh light on the positive aspects of Reconstruction and powerfully dramatizes its negative side. His well-researched book is both exhilarating and disturbing.” The New York Times Book Review

“Pulitzer finalist Philip Dray's Capitol Men: The Epic Story of Reconstruction Through the Lives of the First Black Congressmen is a history of an often overlooked chapter. The stories of men like Hiram Revels of Mississippi, the first black senator, are all the more powerful from some 140 years before Barack Obama began his presidential quest.” —The Washingtonian

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1St Edition edition (September 16, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618563709
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618563708
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,424,349 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By M. A Newman VINE VOICE on October 19, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is the first history, to the best of my knowledge which addresses the careers of the first African American congressmen who attempted to fulfill the notion of post civil war democracy and equality as embodied by the 13th 14th and 15th Amendments. It is a study that is long overdue.

Paul Lawrence Dunbar once observed that "some men are born great, others have greatness thrust upon them and others lived through the Reconstruction." (He might have added the so-called Redeemer period as well when whites disenfranchised African American citizens as well). What this book demonstrates is the exceptional nature of all of the men who represented their constituencies in the South after the Civil War until they were denied representation for nearly 80 years.

This book chronicles many exceptional individuals, but perhaps my favorite is Robert Smalls. Again and again I kept asking "why have I not heard of him before?" Smalls was a war hero, who delivered the steamboat "Planter" to Union hands. Smalls managed to desegregate Philadelphia street car lines and served many years, until he was gerrymandered out of congress by whites who refused to permit African Americans the right to vote, no matter how many ways it took to undermine the law, constitution, and fundamental documents like the Declaration of Independence.

Just as there are heroic seekers after freedom like Smalls, Blanche K. Bruce, Robert Brown Elliot, P.B.S. Pinchback, Hiram Revels, Alonzo Ransier, John Roy Lynch, there are also villain who people this remarkable book.
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Format: Hardcover
History fans, if you thought you knew much of what there was to know about Reconstruction-read this. It'll send you running back to the woodshed...er..library.

This book goes in to great detail about the men that made Reconstruction in major states such as Mississippi, and South Carolina, and Louisiana, where Blacks were in the majority of the population. Think the Civil Rights movement started with Rosa Parks and Dr. King? As early as the 1870s, Robert Elliott and Rev. Richard "Daddy" Cain were fighting for equal accomodation. Learn of the nation's First Black Governor-Pinckney Pinchback-who served in Louisiana in 1873! We all know of a certain Black Senator who electrified the nation with an amazing speech on race relations and national unity, right? Guess what-Hiram Revels of Mississippi did this over 130 years before a certain presidential candidtate of Kenyan and Kansan heritage.

The book is filled with excellent detail as Philip Dray has painstakingly gone through newspapers, perosnla papers, and testimonies of that era in a readable and enjoyable fashion.

Books like this are why I've always said that libraries and bookstores are the best sources for information outside of the school houses. Learn and enjoy!
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Format: Hardcover
Imagine going out for Chinese food with a group of friends? You can almost taste how good its going to be. And, then you find it is closed and you are left with a Japanese restaurant, which happens to be just as good! That's the way I feel about this book. Let me explain.

I got Capitol Men because, with the ascendancy of Barrack Obama to the Presidency, I thought a look at the lives of the first generation of African American would be appropriate and interesting. What I got, though, was not so much that as a look at Reconstruction and its aftermath in the form of the so-called "Redemption". Don't get me wrong, many black political figures are in there from Robert Smalls, "Big Daddy" Richard Cain, Blanche Bruce, John Roy Lynch, and many more. But some are barely discussed. Hiram Revels comes to mind. And, there is very little information as to how their lives in Washington was conducted, how they participated in the legislative process, and the lives they experienced there.

What is contained in the book is not an insider's look at Nineteenth Century Washington, but a deep and introspective look at the reaction of Southern White society to evolving roles for black Americans, the North's flagging committment to the requirements of emancipation, and the reaction of Black leaders to "facts on the ground." This is not an uplifting tale. If you are not touched by the unending suffering and this dark stain on this nation's history, you are not really comprehending the epic tale that Phillip Dray is relaying.

Well written and well explained, this book is a real page-turner of an epic struggle that is, in many ways, still unresolved. Dray moves seemlessly through explanations of legal cases, such as the Slaughterhouse cases, Cruikshank, and Plessy v.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book details the rise to power of the first Black congressmen during Reconstruction. It is not commonly known that Black people could vote immediately after slavery. The author gives a portrayal of men who were not shackled by negative stereotypes and refused to believe the dominant attitudes in society about Black capabilities. They lived by the creed of "The content of their character".
Some were consummate politicians in the best sense of the word. They were men of brilliance, perseverance, and courage. They succeeded against all odds and serve as a great beacon of what can be done despite fierce racial prejudice.
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