Down Along with That Devil’s Bones: A Reckoning with Monuments, Memory, and the Legacy of White Supremacy

Algonquin. Sept. 2020. 272p. ISBN 9781616209100. $26.95. SOC SCI
After moving to Alabama, writer O’Neill (English, Auburn Univ.) sought to make sense of his new home by looking at its past. In order to better understand himself and his country, he traces the footsteps of Confederate general and Klan Grand Wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest by visiting namesake monuments and buildings. This journey brings O’Neill in contact with activists hoping to remove statues, and Forrest admirers and apologists. Following Forrest, also a wealthy slave trader and slaveholder, takes O’Neill to Selma, experiencing white flight after the election of the city’s first Black mayor; Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, with tension between students aiming to change a building name and locals opposing; and Nashville, the home of the ugliest statue dedicated to Forrest. The narrative excels in blending personal and historical throughout, but especially in Memphis, as the author visits a church on the site of Forrest’s former slave mart and delves into the general’s involvement in the 1864 Fort Pillow Massacre. In exploring how whiteness operates, O’Neill maintains that white Americans are skilled at selective memory: “Ideology will assemble the convenient facts and blot out the rest.”
VERDICT O’Neill is a talented writer, and this powerful meditation on collective memory is necessary reading for knowing ourselves and our history.

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