For a few years between Reconstruction and the beginning of the Jim Crow era, African Americans rode a wave of reform to some of the most important political offices in the land. Roughly 2,000 blacks took office on the state, local and federal level, and nearly a dozen former slaves served in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. These trailblazers faced mistreatment and intimidation from both the public and their fellow lawmakers, but they also served as some of the nation’s most prominent advocates of racial equality. From a former manservant to a little-known Civil War veteran, meet five men who rose up from slavery to become part of the United States’ first generation of black congressmen.
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