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

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  175 Ratings  ·  29 Reviews
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
ebook, 480 pages
Published February 11th 2010 by Mariner Books (first published September 16th 2008)
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(showing 1-30)
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Apr 28, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: war, history, americans
Most of the “capitol men” are long-familiar by name, but the pride-instilling Black History childrens books my parents dutifully distributed necessarily skimped on the lurid details of real politics. The lovable knave in the pack is P.B.S. Pinchback, aka “Pinch,” introduced by Dray as “hated, loved, always dapper”—a fine way to come down to posterity, if you ask me.

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Pinch was a former riverboat cardsharp with many a hair’s-breadth ‘scape in his past. Hair’s breadth like bribing the p
I've read numerous books on American history in general and the Civil War in particular, and the fact that I have only ever heard of one of the African-American statesmen mentioned in this book (Robert Smalls, and then only in connection with his wartime service) is ample testimony to the enduring success of the South's 'Redemption' in the antebellum years. That men such as Robert Smalls, Robert Brown Elliot, Blanche K. Bruce and John Roy Lynch among others raised themselves from slavery to beco ...more
Theophilus (Theo)
For some reason, most high school (and some college) textbooks jump from the Civil War to the Spanish-American War as if nothing significant happened in the United States in the intervening years. I found this hard to believe. I have been reading over the years and discovered that it can be seriously argued that the South did not surrender, but merely changed tactics in 1865. This book fills in some blanks about the activities of Congress, but seeks to dispell the myth that all was well with the ...more
Jeff Raymond
Closer to a 4.5.

It's been a while since I've read some straight history, and Capitol Men definitely delivered. A post-reconstruction tale of mostly individual but obviously interconnected African-American individuals who made a mark on the government and in history in general following the Civil War, this is the sort of stuff I had ultimately wished I had gotten in history classes. Instead, it's overlooked for plenty of reasons (good and bad) and the result is that we lose out on some really int
Nov 03, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"..not since the Reconstruction" has become a popular phrase in contemporary politics. Dray's book offers a new perspective on quite an old cliche; you'll be surprised to learn that Doug Wilder was technically not the first black governor.[But I won't spoil it for you; the one who was did so under a technicality but was governor nonetheless:].

Dray's book flows and reads effortlessly. Some of the information will surprise and delight; otherwise it potentially 'inflame' your sense of human dignity
Jul 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The best book about Reconstruction that I have read. Admittedly, it's pretty dense, but it's also compelling, informative, and clear. Contains numerous events and figures who are essentially forgotten today who should be much more prominent in our history. If you read one book on Reconstruction, this should be it.
Aug 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-history
This is easily the best book on Reconstruction I have ever read. It is the rare history book that both has a compelling historical narrative and also clearly outlines how this affects your life and our society today. A must-read for any American trying to understand how we got where we are.
Eb Daniels
Jul 09, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Commenting on James S. Pike's The Prostrate State: South Carolina under Negro Government, Philip Dray laments that "a book so lacking in objectivity could become popular and even well regarded." How fitting that a similar charge can be leveled at Dray's own Capitol Men: from its gushing platitudes to its biased source material to its myopic conclusions, Capitol Men delves into one of the most tragically misrepresented components of American history - the contributions of black congressmen during ...more
Aug 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Took forever to read but I'd totally recommend it.
Jan 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: paperbooks
After touring Lincoln's Cottage in DC, we were conversing with our tour guide and he mentioned this book. I am so thankful he did. I cannot recommend it enough; it is an exceptionally informative history book! (...most of which you'll never learn about in a high school or college class.) Dray does an excellent job of compiling extensive info covering many people, places, and times. The book spans from the end of the Civil War to the beginning of the 20th century. It's the most intriguing history ...more
I have such mixed feelings on this book. On the one hand, it's not that well written. Oh, it's not awful. But it reads like a high school textbook rather than narrative nonfiction; Dray doesn't pick a person, a topic, or a series of events to provide a guide-line through his book, but just gives a general summary of stuff that happened at vaguely the same time and vaguely the same place. Even his subtitle is inaccurate: of the seven black congressmen on the cover, two of them are mentioned liter ...more
Mike Reed
Mar 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book should be required reading for everyone, history keeps repeating itself. The debate over voting laws today are reminiscent of the laws of the past. White America seem to be in a constant battle to keep black citizens in a lower class.
May 22, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Most history books these days advertise themselves as products: ‘The _____ that changed the world/nation,’ or ‘How _____ changed the world/nation.’ Books like this tend to aim broadly distilling the actual event back to obscurity in spite of its claims, and they are often poorly executed and prefer narrative ease over any actual history. Worst yet this sort of book reaffirms the dominant view of historical inquiry as being largely useless. They throw out names, events, and dates so specialized a ...more
Aug 12, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Non-fiction book about the post-Civil War, Reconstruction era, focusing on the first black Congressmen. Pretty fascinating part of history that I knew little to nothing about. After the War, slavery ended and blacks were given the right to vote. Since they were actually in the majority in many Southern states, it resulted in blacks being elected to public office - including serving as Governor or Lt. Governor in states like Louisiana and South Carolina. After about a decade, though, Southern whi ...more
May 04, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-history
In the postbellum South, violence, or the threat of it, had replaced slavery as the key mechanism by which whites controlled African Americans; it wasn't the sole means of oppression, of course, but the most immediately effective at terrorizing the black populace, breeding apathy and disillusionment in the North, and ultimately enabling the Southern redemption (346).

An interesting and highly readable account of a group of extraordinary African Americans who endure all the horrors of racism duri
Gayla Bassham
Really 4 1/2 stars.

This is a great book and you should all read it immediately.

Of all the really compelling historical figures in this book, the one that stood out the most to me was Robert Smalls. I cannot figure out why he is not better known. As best I can tell, there are only two biographies of Smalls in print: one, fairly short, by an academic press and a picture book for children. Smalls led a very full life and really deserves a full-length biography. He was born into slavery; made a thri
Margaret Sankey
Jul 23, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It is one thing to tell a US History survey that after the Civil War, Reconstruction state governments had black Congressmen, judges and officials, but that they were removed by Bourbons after 1876. It is something else to get to know them as human beings through Philip Dray's intensely personal and beautifully reconstructed group biography, especially their tragic and definitive dismissal from the halls of power into the Jim Crow south.
Sep 03, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the best history books I have ever read, this is story, both sad and inspiring, about the courageous freed slaves who played a major role in American politics before the South imposed apartheid and prevented them and their descendants from participating in public life until the Civil Rights Movement completed the job the Civil War began.
Christopher Richardson
A fascinating look into the lives of several prominent African-Americans during the era of Reconstruction and the brief "window of freedom" afforded to African-Americans after the Civil War but before the rise of segregation.
Bryan Ericson
Jan 11, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a great book that tells the story of some of the first African American men to enter Congress during Reconstruction before Jim Crow turned the Southern Congressional delegation lilly white until the mid 20th century.
Seth Greenfest
May 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was an amazing book. I learned a great deal about the first black members of Congress and important events that contributed to first the expansion and then the restriction of the rights of former slaves, and African-Americans in general.
Aug 25, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very insightful,a good read.
used hardcover library book
Paul Brandel
Jul 10, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was one of my favorite books I've read in '09. Great book on
Black Congressmen during the short lived Reconstruction era.
Mar 01, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love reading about history I currently know little about.
Oct 15, 2008 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Intriguing review in New Yorker about the accomplishments and lives of the blacks elected to Congress during Reconstruction
rated it it was amazing
Jun 15, 2016
rated it it was amazing
Aug 28, 2012
Harold Kofman
rated it really liked it
Apr 30, 2017
Fred Faulkner
rated it liked it
Aug 06, 2012
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Pulitzer Prize finalist and winner of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Book Award.

Lives in Brooklyn, New York.
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