The Civil War ended in 1865. Nathan Bedford Forrest, Confederate army general and the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, died in 1877. But a bust made in his likeness was installed in a park in Selma, Alabama, in 2000, days after the inauguration of the first Black mayor of a city known for its critical role in the civil rights movement.
Down Along With That Devil’s Bones: A Reckoning With Monuments, Memory, and the Legacy of White Supremacy by Connor Towne O’Neill examines Forrest’s life and how people still seek to preserve his legacy through monuments, buildings and markers bearing his name. When Pennsylvania-raised O’Neill first arrived in Alabama, he didn’t think he had any connection to the Confederacy. But as he began to examine not only Forrest’s life but also his lasting influence, O’Neill acknowledged, “I can reject every tenet of the Confederacy and yet the fact remains that, in fighting to maintain white supremacy, Forrest sought to perpetuate a system tilted in my favor. Forrest fought for me.”
Though O’Neill doesn’t go too deep into his own experience, sharing his inner monologue serves as an invitation for white readers to likewise examine the ways they have benefited from systems built by and in the interest of white people. Along the way, O’Neill offers all readers a lens through which to examine their relationship to the past.
The monuments O’Neill writes about were erected long after Forrest’s death. In this way, the Confederacy isn’t just history. It’s a foundation for how our present-day society functions. In recounting the ways Nathan Bedford Forrest’s legacy shows up in contemporary life, Down Along With That Devil’s Bones points to the oppression these monuments seek to preserve. This book is a well-researched history and a call for reformation in America.