"There is no excuse for those images… It's not okay."
Luke Combs has apologized for his use of the Confederate Flag.
Taking part in the annual Country Radio Seminar conference on Wednesday with fellow star Maren Morris, he admitted there was "no excuse" for use of the imagery.
The singer explained how, following the release of his most recent single "The Great Divide", — in which he urges understanding and reconciliation — there was a social media rush to recirculate old photos of him with the flag.
"When I released the song, there were some images that resurfaced of me, and it's not the first time that those images have surfaced and have been used against me," he told interviewer Ann Powers of NPR, per Variety. "And obviously those are images that I can't take back. Obviously in the age of the internet, those things live forever.
"And there is no excuse for those images. … It's not okay."
Any @lukecombs fans out there? Anybody care that he has multiple pics with confederate flags on his guitar and in his press photos? Why is this not a topic of discussion? We all knew he couldn’t write a song and Walmart was his fashion designer but guess what? He’s racist too. pic.twitter.com/vvolPR2CDw
He added: "As a younger man, that was an image that I associated to mean something else. And as I’ve grown in my time as an artist, and as the world has changed drastically in the last five to seven years, I am now aware how painful that image can be to someone else."
He said that, "At the time that those images existed, I wasn't aware what that was portraying to the world and to African-American artists in Nashville that were saying, 'Man, I really want to come in and get a deal and do this thing, but how can I be around with these images being promoted?' And I apologize for being associated with that."
The pair were discussing the fallout from fellow country star Morgan Wallen's N-word controversy, against which Morris has been among the most vocal in the industry. She resolutely rejected critics who attacked her for turning on her "family" by calling Wallen out.
"This isn’t about going after people or a fan base for sport," she said. "That doesn't give me pleasure. But I think (saying) 'We're different; we're country; we protect our own; we don't go after people in public' … Well, I mean, going after someone saying the N-word is bad? That’s the least we can do is not say that."
"I think that your fans are a reflection of you and what you’re about. And you can't control a human being, but you absolutely can let them know where you stand."
Morris said she appreciated Wallen telling his own fans to stop defending him, because as she said, "it's indefensible".
"And he knows that; we know that… All we can do is, so there isn’t an elephant in the room, is say that out loud and hold our peers accountable."
"I don’t care if it’s awkward sitting down the row from you at the next awards show — call them out! If this is a family and you love it, call it out when it’s bad, so you can rid the diseased part so we can move forward."
She said those that claim "We're a family, we protect our own" are only trying to protect white people, and exclude everyone else.
"This whole controversy is absolutely diminishing the plight of Black people in country music that are trying to make it in this genre… That is what they see representing it every day."