Ken Burns: ‘Confederate monuments have to go’
Documentarian Ken Burns, creator of the nine-part 1990 miniseries “The Civil War,” said monuments honoring the Confederacy “have to go.”
“I think we’re in the middle of an enormous reckoning right now in which the anxieties and the pains and the torments of injustice are bubbling up to the surface,” Burns told CNN’s Chris Cuomo in a Tuesday interview. “It’s very important for people like me, of my complexion, to it be as quiet as possible and to listen. What I know from my reading of history is that the Confederate monuments have to go.”
Most Confederate statues were installed during periods of backlash to Black advancements, such as the post-Reconstruction period in the 1890s and the early days of the 20th century and the civil rights movement.
“They’re an attempt to rewrite history and to essentially celebrate a false narrative about what happened during the Civil War and to send the wink-winks, the dog whistles, as we are fond of saying today, across the generations about what the Civil War was about,” Burns told Cuomo. “It’s so interesting that we’re even having this argument because the people that we memorialize, the nation’s forts that are named after Civil War generals … these are people responsible for the deaths of loyal American citizens.”
Amid protests around the country against racism and police brutality, several Confederate statues have been defaced or toppled, while in some cases local officials have removed the statues themselves to keep them from becoming a target.
Cuomo asked if protesters had gone too far in also targeting statues of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Ulysses S. Grant, who before becoming president led the Union army to victory.
“Of course there’s a danger in going too far. It’s the passions of the moment. And let’s think about it,” Burns told Cuomo. “Let’s hold off and reserve judgment for one second and consider that more than quarter of the presidents of the United States of America, founded on the idea that all men are created equal, the guy who wrote that [Jefferson] owned 300 human beings in his lifetime, by the way. More than a quarter of the United States presidents owned other human beings. This is a huge thing that we cannot just dismiss.”
Burns’s own film has also been criticized as obscuring slavery as the primary cause of the war and promoting the revisionist “Lost Cause” view of the antebellum South. His frequent collaborator, historian Geoffrey Ward, said in 2017 that the documentary would have benefited from a “harsher but more accurate” portrayal of Gen. Robert E. Lee.