Michelle Kung
February 29, 2008 AT 05:00 AM EST

Among the unhappiest stories of Reconstruction is the massacre of 60-plus African Americans in Colfax, La., on Easter Sunday, 1873. As Charles Lane grippingly recalls in The Day Freedom Died, barely armed former slaves were knifed, burned, smoked out of a courthouse, and gunned down by a white posse angry over an 1872 Republican election victory. Shockingly, the U.S. Supreme Court used the victims’ case to effectively block all future federal protection of civil rights until the 1950s — a decision with ramifications today. Through his deft legal, political, and social analysis, Lane shines an illuminating light on one of America’s more sordid events. A-

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