Ken Burns, the documentarian behind PBS's acclaimed The Civil War series, blasted the myth that the Confederate flag isn't a symbol of racism and white supremacy during a Thursday appearance on MSNBC's Morning Joe.
"I think what happens is that we build up over time the sense of an excuse about why it came," Burns said. "If you read … South Carolina's articles of secession in November — after [Abraham] Lincoln's election of 1860 — they don't mention states' rights, they don't mention nullification. They mention slavery over and over again."
He later added, "Those [Confederate] flags came in after Brown v. Board of Education. This is not about heritage. This is about resistance to civil rights."
With these two points, Burns is demonstrating how the Confederate battle flag has always been a symbol against efforts by black Americans to gain equal rights. When South Carolina became the first state to secede after Lincoln's election, it explicitly singled out attempts to abolish slavery and grant rights to black Americans as "hostile to the South" and "destructive of its beliefs and safety." And as Vox's Libby Nelson explained, Southerners used the flag to intimidate civil rights advocates and defend segregation. So while some Southerners might not see the Confederate flag as a racist symbol, the truth is the flag's history is mired in racism.