Capitol Men: The Epic Story of Reconstruction Through the Lives of the First Black Congressmen

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A New York Times Notable Book: A “stirring” and “eye-opening” history of the Reconstruction era’s forgotten heroes from the award-winning author (The New York Times Book Review).
 
The years following the Civil War were some of the most progressive and precarious in United States history. Under the terms of congressional Reconstruction, newly emancipated African American men began to vote—and win elections. But the more power they gained, the more bitter and violent a backlash they faced. In this compelling history, Pulitzer Prize finalist Philip Dray shines a light on the first black members of Congress.
 
We meet men like Hiram Revels of Mississippi, who in 1870 took the congressional seat once held by Jefferson Davis; Robert Smalls of South Carolina, the Civil War hero who had stolen a Confederate vessel and delivered it to the Union navy; and Robert Brown Elliott, who bested the former Confederate vice president in a stormy debate on the House floor. Often neglected by standard histories of the period, these individuals—some of whom were formerly enslaved—played a critical role in the fight for public education, equal rights, land distribution, and more.
 
Drawing on archival documents, contemporary newspaper coverage, and congressional records, Dray covers the fraught period between the Emancipation Proclamation and Jim Crow, following these trailblazing politicians in their effort to realize the promise of a new nation.
 
“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
 
Capitol Men is an excellent choice for both newcomers to the Reconstruction saga and those already informed about the period.” —Atlanta Journal-Constitution
 
“Dray is an engaging writer with an eye for the dramatic incident and an ability to draw out its broader significance and relevance to our own times.” —The Nation
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About the author

Philip Dray is the author of several books, including Stealing God’s Thunder and At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The Lynching of Black America, which won the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award, the Southern Book Critics Circle Award, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
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Additional Information

Publisher
HMH
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Published on
Feb 11, 2010
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Pages
480
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ISBN
9780547526911
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Language
English
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Genres
History / United States / Civil War Period (1850-1877)
Social Science / Discrimination & Race Relations
Social Science / Ethnic Studies / African American Studies
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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It is easy to shrink from our country’s brutal history of lynching. Lynching is called the last great skeleton in our nation’s closet: It terrorized all of black America, claimed thousands upon thousands of victims in the decades between the 1880s and the Second World War, and leaves invisible but deep scars to this day. The cost of pushing lynching into the shadows, however—misremembering it as isolated acts perpetrated by bigots on society’s fringes—is insupportably high: Until we understand how pervasive and socially accepted the practice was—and, more important, why this was so—it will haunt all efforts at racial reconciliation.

“I could not suppress the thought,” James Baldwin once recalled of seeing the red clay hills of Georgia on his first trip to the South, “that this earth had acquired its color from the blood that had dripped down from these trees.” Throughout America, not just in the South, blacks accused of a crime—or merely of violating social or racial customs—were hunted by mobs, abducted from jails, and given summary “justice” in blatant defiance of all guarantees of due process under law. Men and women were shot, hanged, tortured, and burned, often in sadistic, picnic-like “spectacle lynchings” involving thousands of witnesses. “At the hands of persons unknown” was the official verdict rendered on most of these atrocities.

The celebrated historian Philip Dray shines a clear, bright light on this dark history—its causes, perpetrators, apologists, and victims. He also tells the story of the men and women who led the long and difficult fight to expose and eradicate lynching, including Ida B. Wells, James Weldon Johnson, Walter White, and W.E.B. Du Bois. If lynching is emblematic of what is worst about America, their fight may stand for what is best: the love of justice and fairness and the conviction that one individual’s sense of right can suffice to defy the gravest of wrongs. This landmark book follows the trajectory of both forces over American history—and makes the history of lynching belong to us all.


From the Hardcover edition.
“We forget, living in this era of heavily patented research and closely guarded results, how wonderfully exciting the scientific world used to be. In Stealing God’s Thunder, the story of Benjamin Franklin’s invention of the lightening rod and the resulting consequences, that sense of wonder and excitement and even fear comes beautifully to life. Philip Dray does a remarkable job of illuminating the ever-fascinating Franklin and, more than that, the way that he, and his invention, helped create the new scientific world.”
–Deborah Blum, author of Love at Goon Park: Harry Harlow and the Science of Affection

Stealing God’s Thunder is a concise, richly detailed biography of Benjamin Franklin viewed through the lens of his scientific inquiry and its ramifications for American democracy. Today we think of Benjamin Franklin as a founder of American independence who also dabbled in science. But in Franklin’s day it was otherwise. Long before he was an eminent statesman, he was famous for his revolutionary scientific work, especially his experiments with lightning and electricity.

Pulitzer Prize finalist Philip Dray uses the evolution of Franklin’s scientific curiosity and empirical thinking as a metaphor for America’s struggle to establish its fundamental values. Set against the backdrop of the Enlightenment and America’s pursuit of political equality for all, Stealing God’s Thunder recounts how Franklin unlocked one of the greatest natural mysteries of his day, the seemingly unknowable powers of electricity and lightning. Rich in historic detail and based on numerous primary sources, Stealing God’s Thunder is a fascinating original look at one of our most beloved and complex founding fathers.


From the Hardcover edition.
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