In an interview on CNN’s Cuomo Prime Time Tuesday, filmmaker Ken Burns voiced his support of the mob attacks on historical works of art depicting figures and events surrounding the Confederacy and the Civil War.
“I think we’re in the middle of an enormous reckoning right now in which the anxieties and the pains and the torments of centuries of injustice are bubbling up to the surface, It’s very important for people like me, of my complexion, to be as quiet as possible and to listen,” Burns began.
“What I know from my reading of history is that the confederate monuments have to go.”
They were put up in the 1880s and 90s when white supremacy was being brutally re-imposed over the old Confederacy.
Again in the late teens and 20s when the Ku Klux Klan was ascendant. Again, after the Brown versus the Board of Education decision in 1954.
And so, we see that these are not monuments to history and heritage but 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’re fond of saying today – across the generations about what the Civil War was about.
It’s so interesting that we’re having this argument, because the people that we memorialize – the nation’s forts that are named after Civil War Generals – these are people who fought to perpetuate slavery, which must be an anathema to every American. And they’re also people responsible for the deaths of loyal American citizens. That’s a travesty.
Cuomo replied that the defenders of the artwork say “they are making a play to heritage” and acknowledged the troubling extension, now, to figures such as the Founding Fathers, Abraham Lincoln, and Ulysses S. Grant.
“Is there a danger in going too far?” he asked.
Burns, becoming visibly agitated, responded, “Of course, there’s a danger in going too far. It’s the passions of the moment. And let’s just think about it for a second. Let’s just hold off and reserve judgement for one second and consider that more than a 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 owned more than 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. But I would say that the Confederate monument, for me, is an easy decision. We have to get rid of them.
They’re not about heritage. This is a specious argument.
This is about the reimposition of white supremacy in the South at various periods. The names of the bases and forts should be changed. We’ve taken down the statues. It’s a good thing to do.
And we now need to continue this reckoning by looking as carefully as we can – monuments are hugely important. They’re acts of fact but also acts of mythology. They are acts of symbols.
In less than 24 hours, the interview has been seen more than 182,000 times on YouTube, and is being lauded by the left on social media platforms like Twitter, while being largely ignored by the right.
Burns’ productions are a staple of taxpayer-funded PBS. His decades-long record of documentaries focus almost exclusively on films about America’s history and traditions. Among his best-known works are “The Brooklyn Bridge” (1981), “The Statue of Liberty” (1985), “Baseball” (1994), and “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” (2009).
Ken Burns is well-known for his support of the Democrat Party – and in particular, of President Barack Obama, whom he compared to Abraham Lincoln in 2007.
In an interview with Variety in 2016, he compared Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler in response to a question about the “Access Hollywood” audio recording.
“The fact that he could say the things he said about women, and that his adoring masses are not even flinching at that, is Hitler-esque,” Burns said.
In the same interview, Variety reporter Brent Lang asked, “Do you think [Donald Trump is] a fascist?”
Burns replied, “Absolutely. When you talk about having extra-judicial, threatening rivals with jail. You can call it fascistic or you can call it dictatorial. You can call it monomaniacal or imperial. Whatever you want to say, this is not the way that our country works.”
Watch the full CNN segment: