By Staff Reports
(Victor Valley) – The Reconstruction period after the Civil War will be the topic of a lecture presented by Ward McAfee, professor emeritus of history, at Cal State San Bernardino on Thursday, March 5.
“Reconstruction: America’s Second Founding Period,” will be presented from noon-2 p.m. at CSUSB’s John M. Pfau Library, room PL-4005. The lecture is free; parking at the university is $5.
Reconstruction was one of the most important eras in American history, but it rarely gets the attention it deserves. At the end of Reconstruction, embittered Southerners were certain that it would always be recalled as a time of federal tyranny; African Americans were certain that it would be forever known as a time of white terrorism and Republican broken promises; and white Northerners just wanted to forget it as quickly as possible.
A story line can be built around each of these perceptions, but McAfee’s presentation will have another take: Reconstruction was the second founding of the nation, but that perception would not be possible until many years later; only now can the full contours of Reconstruction’s significance be seen.
After the Civil War, the bloodiest war in United States history, the victorious North was intent that state power needed to be checked. Thus began Reconstruction. Military Reconstruction, which lasted from 1867 to 1870, forced the southern states to adopt the 14th Amendment, which stated in very simple language that both equal protection and due process of law was the right of every person living within the states themselves.
Just as the power of the states to limit the powers of the federal government were not checked during the first founding, the power of the federal government to limit the powers of the state governments were not checked during Reconstruction.
The failure of Reconstruction temporarily put the 14th Amendment in limbo for several generations but eventually the U.S. judicial system, in its role of fleshing out what the Constitution really means, began to apply the Bill of Rights to the states for the first time.
McAfee received his Ph.D. from Stanford in 1965 and took his first teaching assignment at CSUSB, which opened that same year. He is the author of several books on Civil War and Reconstruction, as well as California history. In 2001, a book that he finished for the widow of Professor Don Fehrenbacher of Stanford University, “The Slaveholding Republic,” won the Organization of American Historian’s annual prize for the best book on the coming of the Civil War.
During his 43 years at CSUSB, he served in both administration and the classroom, with most of his years in the latter. He won the University’s Outstanding Professor Award in 1993.
McAfee’s talk was organized by the History Club, CSUSB Phi Alpha Theta chapter; Upward Bound’s Summer Steele and Olivia Guerrero; Iwona Contreras from the Pfau Library; and Tim Pytell, professor of history, and Pamela Crosson, administrative support coordinator in the CSUSB history department.