The history of the Lost Cause explains the Big Lie of today

If I were to tell you that there is one story that shaped the South more than any other, I bet it wouldn’t take you too long to figure out what it is.

Immediately after the Civil War, Confederate Veterans and their families started telling stories. Stories about why they fought. Stories about the South before the war. And stories that warped and reframed the narrative not just of the South but of the entire country. The Lost Cause is perhaps one of the most powerful and damaging American stories. It shows up in our textbooks, in our public monuments, in film, and of course, in the rhetoric of our politicians.

This week on the Reckon Interview, we are talking about the rise and fall of Lost Cause monuments with Connor Towne O’Neill, a producer of the White Lies podcast and author of the fascinating book “Down Along with that Devil’s Bones: A Reckoning with Monuments, Memory and the Legacy of White Supremacy.”

Connor’s book suggests there may be no better example of this myth in action than in the story of Nathan Bedford Forrest. Forrest was many things. He was a man who went from relative obscurity to a general in the Confederate Army; he was a slave owner; he was a man who butchered Freedmen soldiers who were attempting to surrender; he was a key figure in the Trail of Tears. And later he was a leader of the Ku Klux Klan.

And yet monuments to this man, and to his legacy that has been completely reframed and warped, litter the American landscape from Selma to Nashville and beyond. Forrest even served as the namesake character for the beloved film icon Forrest Gump.

So, what is the Lost Cause? And how have we gotten Forrest’s story so wrong? And then how has our recent reckoning on race and American history changed how we understand him today? And is there a possibility that we’re going to see a new Lost Cause myth born out of the 2020 election and the January 6th attack on the US Capitol?

These are a few of the small, light subjects that we’re tackling on this week’s episode of the Reckon Interview.

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Below is a full transcript of the episode. 

Hammontree: I believe you were working on the White Lies podcast down in Selma, Alabama, when you came across a controversial, relatively new monument to Nathan Bedford Forrest, that sort of served as the entry point for your book.

Connor Towne O’Neill: Yeah, that’s right.

Hammontree: Can you tell us about that?

O’Neill: So I was in Selma on the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, the the attack by Alabama law enforcement on nonviolent demonstrators at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge there in Selma. 50 years later, President Obama is in town. 40,000 other people are there. And it’s just totally overcrowded with people and so I’m desperate for a place to park. And it occurs to me, you know, Selma, like a lot of these Southern cities has a pretty extensive cemetery. You know, magnolias, Spanish moss, the whole Midnight in the Harden of Hood and Evil thing and its own system of roads. So I’m like Oh, I’ll just stash my car there. It’s just a couple blocks down to the bridge. But as I turn in, I start seeing all the signs, Confederate Memorial circle closed, no trespassers. And I know that it sounds naive to say this now, given everything that’s happened since and, you know, honestly, it’s probably a little naive of me at the time, even. But it was just sort of like “Confederates on the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday? Like what’s going on here?” So I walk over and just sort of asked the people that are kind of standing guard around part of the Confederate section of the cemetery, like, what are “What are y’all doing here?” It come to learn that this group who calls themselves the “Friends of Forrest” has really spent the better part of the last two decades fighting about this statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest that they had put up. And you know, of course, given you know, Forrest’s biography, putting up a statue of him would be controversial anywhere. It’s all the more so in Selma, though, given its how central it is to the civil rights movement and to voting rights. But to compound that even further, they do it in the year 2000, which is the in the same week that the city had inaugurated its first black mayor. So it is, as you might imagine, enormously controversial. It’s protested, derided, defended. It becomes a sort of crucible for the mayor. It’s eventually moved out to the cemetery but then it’s stolen. And it’s theft only kicks off more debates and protests, eventually a federal lawsuit about whether the Friends of Forrest could replace this statue. And so by the time that I meet them in March of 2015, they had won that federal lawsuit and were there that day, well, in part to prepare the grounds for the replacement of the statue. Of course, you know, they were also there to sort of thumb their nose, it seemed, at the 50th anniversary events. But really the dissonance of that encounter, just raised all of these questions about who Forrest was and what it meant to put up a statue to him in 2015. And those are really the questions that the book is grappling with, and that I began to research then, in the months after that. But then that summer it really sort of touches a third rail, because just a few weeks after they ended up replacing the statue of Forrest, Dylann Roof murders nine African-Americans in the basement of Mother Emanuel AME Church. And those Charleston Nine murders kick off this referendum on Confederate symbolism. And so as those protests and campaigns to remove Confederate monuments breakout, I start following the statues of Forrest in particular.

Hammontree: Your book focus on telling the story of Nathan Bedford Forrest, can you just tell us a little bit about who he was as a person and who he has become, as I guess, a myth?

O’Neill: Forrest is born in 1821 in Middle Tennessee. He’s not born to a particularly wealthy family. And he really sort of comes of age with the frontier and sort of moves west as the country does. And once he comes of age, he gets into slave trading and opens a pretty large slave market in Memphis in the 1850s. And becomes, you know, by some counts, one of the wealthiest men in the South, through that human trafficking. And Memphis, of course, is the sort of interior capital of the slave trade. And of course, becomes so wealthy because of the sort of second Middle Passage in those years, as the Deep South opens up. As the sort of plantation slavery through the Black Belt is massively expanding, Forrest is really crucial in that. Lines his pockets with the torture, that is central to that. So he’s a really wealthy slave trader in Memphis, he becomes an elected official then as well. When the war does break out. He uses his own fortune to equip his own cavalry troop, fighting for the Confederacy. He enlists as a private, you know, and I think it’s important there to distinguish Forrest from someone like Lee, one of the first families of Virginia, West Point graduate, sort of epitome of the Southern Gentleman. Forrest is much more brash, uncouth and untrained. You know, he didn’t go to West Point, hardly went to school at all. He’s lettered, but by no means the man of letters. And so he enlists as a private but becomes the most promoted soldier, North or South, and is kind of revered as this instinctual military genius. Historian and novelist Shelby Foote called him one of the two geniuses to emerge from the Civil War, the other being Abraham Lincoln. So, he’s a vicious and effective cavalry leader, but he’s fighting in the neglected Western theater of the war. As one historian Charles Royster put it: Forrest is a major figure in minor battles and a minor figure in major battles. So again, you know, compare that to Lee. You know, he’s not there at Gettysburg, for example, and that will go on to loom large in his myth. “If only Forrest had been given a shot, you know, well, then maybe the South might have won the Civil War.” Anyway, late in the war. He’s the commanding officer at Fort Pillow, which was a racial massacre. He’s accused of war crimes from that.

Hammontree: Can you detail what those are for us? I mean, the war crimes he’s accused of?

O’Neill: So Fort Pillow. It’s a fort just north of Memphis that had changed hands a couple times, Union and Confederate. It’s technically in Union hands, although it’s mostly sort of been abandoned by 1864. There are a couple of Union troops there, including two troops of the U.S. Colored Troops. So the Emancipation Proclamation, in addition to declaring those enslaved people in Confederate territory to be freed, it also calls for the enlistment of Black troops. And of course, that is that is anathema to the Confederate ideal. The whole justification for the practice of slavery is that the men and women they were enslaving are inherently inferior. And in another sort of paternalistic way, that they’re happy, they’re contented in their enslavement. That there are sort of benevolent masters and, you know, grateful slaves. Of course, you know, preposterous but that’s the sort of prevailing ideology. And so to have the formerly enslaved take up arms against the Confederacy flies in the face of the whole idea of their revolution. And so Confederates, this is the first time Forrest’s troops encounter Black troops in battle. They outnumber and quickly overrun the Union troops at Fort Pillow and massacre them. You know, there are reports, letters written from Confederate soldiers describing how these Black soldiers would would drop to their knees surrendering and, you know, be murdered. One soldier reports you know, Forrest ordered them “shot down like dogs.” Forrest’s own report of the battle talks about the river run red with blood, and that he hopes that this battle could prove that Black soldiers could not cope with Southerners. So it is really is a racial massacre. It’s investigated. And the report from that investigation indicates, you know, that Forrest could be brought up on the charges for this, but they weren’t pursued. But I think most fair minded people who look at the evidence from Fort Pillow would, I mean, it’s no doubt a racial massacre. And that, you know, Forrest committed war crimes there. So that’s in 64. Of course, the war ends in 65. Forrest is still fighting in the Deep South, his last stand is in Selma. But he’s, you know, got a couple of thousand troops there. And they’re quickly defeated by the Union and then the war’s over. But Forrest doesn’t doesn’t give up fighting by any means. After the war, he is tapped to lead, to serve as the first Grand Wizard of Ku Klux Klan, in the years after the war. And so is the figurehead of this, you know, vigilante guerrilla war waged during Reconstruction to undermine that project of fully vesting the formerly enslaved with equal protection, voting rights, and to really sort of forge that multiracial democracy, that even now we’re as a country still struggling to achieve. But in those days Forrest, again, is sort of front and center in working to maintain a society structured around the ideology of white supremacy.

Hammontree: He’s often called the founder of the KKK, but he was the first Grand Dragon but he was kind of tapped by other men there in Memphis to lead it? Is that what happened?

O’Neill: The Klan first starts in Pulaski, Tennessee, so sort of south central. And they’re a sort of den, a sort of local outfit, that is part militant, part performance. There’s a sort of spectacle that is central to what the Klan is doing. Of course, the project from the start being to intimidate the formerly enslaved. But one of them sort of sees potential for something larger than just, the High Carnival of Night, as they call it at first. But yeah, they could take it national. You know, they could wage a sort of guerilla war of intimidation and violence across the South and help, you know, sort of return the south  to its pre-war state. And to do that, they realize that they need to kind of figurehead. Someone that could help in in recruiting these kind of localized… It’s a very decentralized project but having someone at the top who everybody knows, is crucial. And who better than the Wizard of the Saddle, Nathan Bedford Forrest, who even then sort of after the war was taking on this kind of mythic presence in the South.

Hammontree: I want to drill down on that point about what you said about the statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest first going up in Selma after the first Black mayor had been elected. Because that was kind of the pattern historically. Anytime there was a major advancement of civil rights for Black southerners, there was an immediate pushback to kind of codify this Lost Cause mythology. And in places like Selma and Memphis, a lot of that took the form of iconography of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a person who, by most counts, nobody would say is somebody who should be revered. I mean, you walked through how he could be kind of seen as maybe more of the every man, pseudo-self-made man than Robert E. Lee was, and I can understand like that appealing to a certain class of soldier who were more like Forrest than they would have been like Lee. But involved with the Trail of Tears, involved with racial massacres, involved with slave trade, involved with the Ku Klux Klan, like lots of strikes against him. And yet he became somebody who continues to be praised by some Southerners, in part, because of the scaffolds of mythology that we’ve built up around him, starting basically, I guess, with the response to Reconstruction in the South, where Black southerners and white allies were creating these fusion governments to advance civil rights in the South, for white and black people. And Southerners like Forrest and the KKK pushed back violently. Part of what you’re tracing in your book is the emergence of that story itself and Forrest is kind of the representative of it. But walk us through how we get from violent Klan leader to a joke in Forrest Gump as the namesake of the character that Tom Hanks plays.

O’Neill: There is a sort of whitewashing done to Confederate memory that is partly the failing of a collective American memory, but it’s also you know sort of actively made that way. It wasn’t just we don’t have a sort of hazy sense of the Confederacy as a benign thing, you know, as shown by the flag on the roof of the Dukes of Hazzard’s car or you know the jokes in the Tom Hanks movie. But because groups like the UDC in the years after the war really did a massively effective job at advancing these ideas of what’s called the Lost Cause. Because of course you have, well we have a number of problems one of them being, a messaging problem. Because in the lead up to the war, of course, the Confederate leaders are really telling anyone who would listen just what the the project of the Confederacy is about. That this is in no uncertain terms about maintaining and expanding a slave society and in doing so explicitly on the idea that the men and women that they are enslaving were inherently inferior. This is, you know, it doesn’t take weeks in the archive to find this stuff, right? These are the documents of secession. Alexander H. Stephens, the vice president of the Confederacy’s cornerstone speech in the lead up to the war. Like it was out there. It was well known. But then, of course, they lose and three quarters of a million soldiers have died, and as you’re sort of trying to knit the country back together, you have this problem of, like, so many people died because you wanted to keep enslaving people? And so there’s this kind of, like, public project of revising public memory through textbooks, through monuments, through storytelling, through works of literature and movies, to cast the war in terms of, you know, brother against brother, the sacrifice of the soldier, the tragedy of their death and to sidestep these thornier questions of what it meant that 11 former, and future, U.S. states were fighting violently to create an ethnostate in the south. So there’s all of this effort to cast the master as benevolent, the enslaved as grateful and contented, the war about states’ rights or tariffs and not about the moral bankruptcy in the violent defense of this system of slavery. And it was hugely effective, right? When i walk into my ninth grade history classroom in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the teacher is there at the front of the room talking about how the war was about states rights. Because it’s difficult to grapple with. It’s difficult to square up with in what we tell ourselves is this achievement of democracy, this shining example of freedom across the world. These ideas of American exceptionalism are really hard to say with a straight face if you’re going to square up to the actuality of our past. And so you know white Americans, North and South, have some incentive to participate in the magical thinking of what the Civil War was about and what the Confederacy was about and even who someone like Nathan Bedford Forrest was. “He was a self-made man,” we won’t talk about the fact that he, you know, pulled himself up by his bootstraps through human trafficking. “He was a keen, instinctual military leader” and saying nothing about how he wielded that power to you know massacre surrendering Black soldiers. And more largely to establish his military genius in a fight to [maintain] slavery. So yeah it’s this massive program of whitewashing that that has really sort of helped keep Forrest in a national consciousness in a way that doesn’t fully square to the full meaning and really sort of horror of what his life was like.

Hammontree: Coming up after the break Connor and I discuss how a summer of Black Lives Matter protests changed his book and the January attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Hammontree: You have an epigraph at the beginning of your book, comes from Viet Thanh Nguyen. The quote reads, “All wars are fought twice. The first time on the battlefield and the second time in memory.” And as I’ve been reading this book, you know, I’m kind of struck by the similarities. He’s a Vietnamese author. And he talks about these groups of South Vietnamese people who, in some ways profited off of something that was very similar to a Lost Cause. They convinced a lot of refugees that, you know, there were guerrillas waiting somewhere in Thailand that were always going to come and liberate Vietnam from the Communists. There’s also similar energy that maybe animated the Russian consciousness, that kind of seduced them back to totalitarianism, and Putin, this kind of restoration of glory, that’s just kind of waiting in the wings. It’s very seductive. And it makes sense. Like I can understand why eighth grade white boys sitting in a history class in Selma, Alabama, are prone to being seduced by this narrative that the South was actually worth fighting for. But I guess the departure from that, and certainly different from how Germany would teach its history from World War II, for instance, is the South lost, and yet somehow was able to rewrite the curriculum for the entire country. And that that seems unique between the North and South Vietnamese and the North and South Koreans. You know, we don’t have South Korea telling the North Korean story as much as North Korea might tell everybody else’s story. And so I wonder, you know, you write about growing up in Pennsylvania, and James Carville quotes notwithstanding, that is not the South, as far as I know. So what was your personal understanding and experience reckoning with your own history and your own upbringing?

O’Neill: I think for a long time, it was magical thinking, but maybe magical thinking of a different sort. You know, what Robert Penn Warren calls the “treasury of virtue,” this sense that Northerners by virtue of their association with the Union Army, the emancipating force, is sort of wholly good and, you know, allows the Civil War to exist as a sort of event horizon. You know, racism, insofar as this whole problem is a problem, quote “down there.” And I think, you know, in a lot of ways, I grew up without thinking much about race, or rather, that like, race was a problem for other people. And thinking about this in terms of something like the civil rights movement, like, “Oh, right, race was a problem for Black people. And then some brave people stood up and marched. And then they solved it. And it’s all good.” I mean, it was even more inchoate than that growing up, you know. It was just something you didn’t think much about. And especially not thinking about something like whiteness, you know, it was just the norm. It was just the given. The sort of room tone. You’re not supposed to hear it, it just is. You’re not supposed to think much about whiteness, it just is. And not at all wrestling with the sort of questions about where it came from, what it even specifically references, and how that has changed and been so contingent, but always been, you know, a force for structuring society and hoarding opportunities and resources and wealth. And not thinking about all the ways that it was shaping my life too, how my parents were able to buy their house, what school district that neighborhood was in, how the school was funded, you know, how I was seen by my teachers, by police officers, how that asset of the house would then go on to fund, you know, my car, you know, college loans, all of that stuff. All the ways that race functions as a way to provide benefits to some and at the exclusion of others, you know. I wasn’t thinking about it. My life was moving along these lines that I was paying no attention to and not being asked to really pay much attention to. And again, I know, this sounds so naive, and it is, but it was just sort of, I was just sort of proceeding as the way allowed. And it really wasn’t until I started wrestling with these questions about the Civil War, the Confederacy, the legacy of slavery, that I came to see like, oh, well, it’s really convenient for a Northerner to think about it as someone else’s problem. But of course, this idea of a racial hierarchy, even if it finds its most visible, and most sort of conspicuous expression in the Confederacy, in the plantation slavery system and in the Deep South, these questions of race and how race operates as a way of structuring American life, of course, had everything to do with me. I had a stake in this too. And so I came to it in this very roundabout way, right? I moved to the Deep South and dug deep into, you know, the history and historiography of the Civil War, only to sort of come full circle and see like, oh, this is an American thing. This isn’t a Southern thing.

Hammontree: Yeah. And I think it’s interesting, a lot of Southern students continue, as you mentioned, some Northern students as well, continue to be fed the narrative that the South was fighting for states’ rights, they weren’t fighting for slavery. You do a great job of disabusing that notion. The South was fighting for slavery. I think sometimes Northern students learn a weird kind of inversion of that. They learn that the North was fighting to end slavery. And that’s not quite right either. The North was fighting to preserve the Union. So the South was fighting to keep slavery, but the North was fighting to keep the Union together. And the question of whether or not slavery should be ended, was really forced by runaway and emancipated slaves themselves, you know, kind of demanding that of Abraham Lincoln. And a lot of Northern soldiers were ambivalent or hostile to the question itself. Yeah. And we see a lot of that kind of spill forth in in some of the same civil rights fights that were happening in northern cities in the 1960s, and 70s, as they were happening. But I guess why I wanted to have this conversation right now, because a lot of our listeners may be thinking, “Okay, this is, you know, 150 years ago, this is 50 years ago.” But you look at America and the South right now… You know, I was listening, you talk a little bit about the early days of the KKK, and how it was almost more pageantry. And then they thought, “Oh, well, we need a recognizable figurehead to kind of give legitimacy to it.” And, you know, I’m thinking of the Boogaloo boys, and I’m thinking of the Proud Boys, and I’m thinking of the attack on the Capitol on January 6th, and the legitimacy that Donald Trump gave to that. And the way that he tried to delegitimize the election results of November of 2020. You look at that and think, well, “It’s so clearly a lie, how could anybody believe it?” And yet, you see that, you know, somewhere between two-thirds and three-quarters of Republican voters believe the former president’s claims that the election was stolen from him. And you look at the way that the Lost Cause myth spread throughout the South, you know, in the late 19th century and early 20th century, and continues to be something that we deal with today. And it just seems like, if there is a moment in time that we should study right now it is that moment that you spent your book looking into. As it was coming to press, is when we started having a lot of these conversations about tearing down… I mean, some of the monuments you were writing about were being torn down as the book was printing. What was that process like for you? And what parallels have you seen that it’s important for our audience to understand?

O’Neill: Yeah, it was, you know, they had to sort of tear the book out of my hands this summer. And I was saying, “Oh, no no no, I’m just gonna rewrite the ending one more time,” you know. As  these protests and statutes toppling in the wake of the murder of George Floyd this summer. So it’s landing in this moment when, again, we’re thinking about the meaning of these monuments and the very real structures of inequality that they represent and the sort of white supremacist violence that they’re tied to. And as one great, you know, person that I interviewed for my book said, you know, this sort of white supremacists drawing their power from these statues as was the case in something like Charlottesville. So yeah, it’s landing in this moment where it does feel like very much front page, front of mind issues. But it’s always close by, like, it’s always sort of ready to flare up. Even if I couldn’t have predicted the specifics of the moment that it’s coming into, it did feel inevitable that we would be roiled by these issues again. Because, in some ways, what we’re grappling with right now, are the same questions that we were grappling with at the end of the Civil War, which is basically “can a settler slave society fully transform itself into a multiracial democracy?” That’s the question of the Civil War. That’s the question of Reconstruction. That’s the question of former Confederates returning to power and implementing Jim Crow. That’s the question of something like redlining in the North. That’s the question of course of the Civil Rights Movement. And that’s really the backlash to the Civil Rights Movement, the sorts of law and order policies, the war on drugs. And then, of course, that’s the question now. I mean, you look at people screaming to not count votes in Atlanta, Detroit, Philadelphia. I mean, it’s still this question of can we have a multiracial democracy? Or will this sort of recalcitrant violence of sort of white grievance prevail? And you know that’s of course the Klan, among others. But that’s the Klan in Reconstruction. That’s the white citizens councils and the Klan again in a moment like the civil rights movement. And now of course, it’s sort of Proud Boys, Boogaloo Boys, QAnon. And to your point there is again, this blend of spectacle and performance but that always sort of becomes the face of something that does have a well organized, well funded and violent undercurrent to it. So while the QAnon shaman wearing the animal fur is going to, the spectacle of that is going to flood Twitter and The Times, but then there’s, you know, the men with zip ties, the men with long guns, the men with pipe bombs, setting up the gallows. Maybe that’s a sort of blend of spectacle and violence in that case. But yeah, I mean, I think it’s in some ways the same. They’re reading out of the same playbook. And Trump, of course, knew that and why he made something like the protection of Confederate monuments, in an election year, sort of the only the only thing he could talk about and make a sort of primary platform of his campaign. But because they are the embodiments, these symbols of white grievance, of white prerogative, of white power, and an idea that this country is for you, the sorts of claims that the past might have on us are meaningless. “This country is made for you and it’s made by the heroes who built this country for you. And anyone who says otherwise is his lying or hates this country and is trying to undermine it.” Of course, we see this in one of his last acts in office, is to publish the, I mean, comically bad and I think now, it’s been shown to be plagiarized, but the 1776 Report that can only think about America and America’s past in terms of exceptionalism. That there can be no sort of critique levied against it, specifically a critique that might seek to hold the country and its leaders accountable to the sorts of racial inequities that we continue to grapple with. So, I mean, we’re still wrestling with this question of whether we can fully become a multiracial democracy, because there are those willing to go to the mattresses for a country that tilts the board in their favor.

Hammontree: To close, you mentioned you know, you spent five years trying to understand the South and America, you know, through this lens of these Nathan Bedford Forrest monuments and memorials. We seem to be perhaps on the precipice of another shot at that multiracial democracy. You know, we have the most diverse cabinet that we’ve had in American history. We have a Black, Southeast Asian woman as our vice president. First for all three. In the south, you know, we’ve seen a Black senator and a Jewish senator elected from Georgia, first from those states. And the first Jewish senator from the Deep South, you know, since the late 1800s. What is your sense of the potential? And what is your sense of the dangers on the horizon? And what we should be watching for, you know, in the next four years?

O’Neill: Yeah, well, I’m thinking about a tweet from Ayanna Presley the other day, that was saying, you know, “if you really want to thank black women, you know, policy is our love language.” Forget your thank yous and your thoughts and prayers, policy is our love language. So, you know, I think if we really want to to forge an equal society and really grapple with the legacy of white supremacy and with slavery and all of its incarnations after the Civil War, I mean, we have to rethink how we fund schools, canceling college debt. Black women are the most encumbered by student debt. Canceling that. Rethinking how we fund public schools, making higher education more accessible. You know, redistricting. Fully enfranchising formerly incarcerated, incarcerated people. You know, making voting so much easier. And then grappling with things like the prison industrial complex, how we police especially communities of color. I mean in sort of every facet of society. Knowing that the inequalities that we have there are not by accident but because of this project. Because of how race operates in this country and hoarding opportunities for some and excluding them from others. And actually using the past to teach us that like active interventions are necessary. That this isn’t the market. The genius of the market sort of working itself out in the most efficient way, but instead, we have pursued policies that have gotten us to this moment. And we need to actively pursue policies that will get us out of this moment. That, of course, requires what would be a pretty massive redistribution of wealth in this country. And I think that that’s why there are projects like the 1776 Project, the backlash to the Times’ 1619 Project. Things like you know, Mike Pompeo talking about how, you know, the inability of someone to critique America. Because, really, when you make that critique about the past, when you tell a different story of America’s past, you’re implicitly and often explicitly trying to hold its leaders to account for what’s happening in the present for that lasting injury. And so, I think, that’s why there are these battles over the meaning of our past because they have a huge bearing on how decisions about policy get made in the present. So I think if we can rethink and get onto common ground about the meaning of the past and the legacy of slavery, you know, hopefully there can be more consensus for these active interventions and funding these ventures that might grapple with the sorts of inequalities that we have. But, to your point, as I hear myself lay that out, I’m not particularly optimistic that a Biden administration will fervently pursue at the sort of scale required. I mean, this is really 11th hour stuff. So maybe? Maybe. It’s absolutely a more diverse cabinet and executive branch and, increasingly the Congress too. And those are good things. Don’t get me wrong. But again, like if policy is the love language, maybe, we’ll see. I hope that more and more people are sort of realizing the moment that we’re in and the stakes here. But if nothing else, the process of working on this book has really tempered any kind of optimism about America’s ability to to forcefully pursue racial equality.

You can purchase Connor Towne O’Neill’s book, “Down Along with That Devil’s Bones: A Reckoning with Monuments, Memory, and the Legacy of White Supremacy” here.

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