Synopses & Reviews
An unexpected, eye-opening account of how we got from Appomattox to Charlottesville--and where we might go next--told in marble, bronze, and brick.
In the spring of 2015, journalist Connor Towne O'Neill — visiting Selma, Alabama, on the fiftieth anniversary of Bloody Sunday, when black protesters were beaten on the Edmund Pettus Bridge — stumbled upon a meeting of a neo-Confederate group calling themselves the Friends of Forrest. Their mission: to keep alive the memory of Nathan Bedford Forrest, one of the most effective, and vicious, Confederate generals and the first leader of the Ku Klux Klan. Just two months later, Dylann Roof killed nine black worshippers in a church in Charleston, South Carolina, in an attempt to start a new race war. The juxtaposition of these events sent O'Neill down a rabbit hole of exploration into the newly raging fights over Confederate monuments — the history these memorials tell and the history they obscure.
In the course of Down Along with That Devil's Bones, O'Neill brings the reader along as he travels across Alabama and Tennessee to dive deeper into the story of Nathan Bedford Forrest, less known than Robert E. Lee, but to a segment of people he met still a white supremacist hero. Exploring local battles over statues and buildings dedicated to Forrest, talking to activists and academics alike, O'Neill uses Forrest as a lens through which to understand some of the racial upheavals of recent years, delivering a personal and soul-searching series of dispatches from the (increasingly bloody) battlefields of our country's symbolic landscape, tracing the memory of one of the Confederacy's most vicious defenders to reveal a cold Civil War that is, every day, smoldering back to life. And at the same time, O'Neill, a white northerner now living in Alabama, finds he has to revise the story he has believed about himself and his own privileged distance — he thought — from white supremacy.
"O'Neill writes with grace and genuine curiosity, allowing people on all sides of the issue to speak for themselves. This inquiry into the legacy of American slavery is equally distressing and illuminating."
"[Connor Towne O'Neill] decimates the argument for our need of Confederate statues while chronicling what their existence grants him bodily and morally."
Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy
"It is a vital piece of the puzzle, this history, reported in clarity and rich in insight. Would that clarity and insight could lift this curse from our nation at last."
Jim Grimsley, author of How I Shed My Skin
ESSENTIAL ANTIRACIST READING
"We can no longer see ourselves as minor spectators or weary watchers of history after finishing this astonishing work of nonfiction." --Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy
In Down Along with That Devil's Bones, journalist Connor Towne O'Neill takes a deep dive into American history, exposing the still-raging battles over monuments dedicated to one of the most notorious Confederate generals, Nathan Bedford Forrest. Through the lens of these conflicts, O'Neill examines the legacy of white supremacy in America, in a sobering and fascinating work sure to resonate with readers of Tony Horwitz, Timothy B. Tyson, and Robin DiAngelo.
When O'Neill first moved to Alabama, as a white Northerner, he felt somewhat removed from the racism Confederate monuments represented. Then one day in Selma, he stumbled across a group of citizens protecting a monument to Forrest, the officer who became the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and whom William Tecumseh Sherman referred to as "that devil." O'Neill sets off to visit other disputed memorials to Forrest across the South, talking with men and women who believe they are protecting their heritage, and those who have a different view of the man's poisonous history.
O'Neill's reporting and thoughtful, deeply personal analysis make it clear that white supremacy is not a regional affliction but is in fact coded into the DNA of the entire country. Down Along with That Devil's Bones presents an important and eye-opening account of how we got from Appomattox to Charlottesville, and where, if we can truly understand and transcend our past, we could be headed next.
About the Author
Connor Towne O'Neill's writing has appeared in New York magazine, Vulture, Slate, RBMA, and the Village Voice, and he works as a producer on the NPR podcast White Lies. Originally from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, he lives in Auburn, Alabama, where he teaches at Auburn University and with the Alabama Prison Arts + Education Project. This is his first book.