James chose Kirkconnell over Michelle Young during the finale but did not propose.
On After the Final Rose, James confirmed he split from Kirkconnell after photos surfaced of her attending an antebellum plantation-themed party in 2018 and liking racist social media posts. James, the first Black star of The Bachelor, said he initially dismissed the rumors.
"You hear things that are heartbreaking, and you just pray they're not true. And then, when you find out that they are it just makes you question everything," he said.
Kirkconnell had apologized for her "offensive and racist" past actions in February. On After the Final Rose, James said he reevaluated the relationship and split from Kirkconnell after her apology.
"When she spoke out and publicly acknowledged that she would do better and she apologized is when I was finally able to take check on myself and see where I was at, and I wasn't okay," the star said. "It was in that moment and the conversation that I had that [I realized that] Rachael might not understand what it means to be Black in America."
"As Rachael acknowledged in her apology, there's a lot of work that needs to be done," he added. "I have to take a step back and allow her to put in that work, and I'm looking forward to seeing her put in that work."
James said on Tuesday's episode of Good Morning America that seeing Kirkconnell at the After the Final Rose special hit him "like a ton of bricks."
"I felt the weight of everything that I was carrying throughout the season, and with what we were dealing with as a country, and having to explain that. Why it was problematic to me and our relationship, which was extremely difficult," he said.
James confirmed he was hoping for an engagement during his relationship with Kirkconnell.
"Anytime I'm in a relationship with somebody it's because marriage is the ultimate goal," he said. "When you find out things like I did, that deters you from that ultimate goal, because like I stated during After the Final Rose, there's just things you might not understand what it means to be with someone like me."
In addition, James said it was frustrating to hear Kirkconnell say that she never thought the photos would come to light.
"That's the frustrating part about the position I'm in, is having to explain not only to Rachael but to the rest of America why things like that are problematic," he said. "We don't have that chance to have that ignorance. Think about Breonna Taylor, think about Tamir Rice. They didn't have that opportunity to have ignorance."
James then addressed his future with Kirkconnell.
"I know that Rachael's a good person," he said. "Everything that she outlined in her apology and her statement I'm looking forward to seeing her do, because I know she's capable of it."
During the After the Final Rose special, ABC announced Katie Thurston and Michelle Young will star in Season 17 and 18 of The Bachelorette, respectively. The seasons will air back-to-back, with Thurston's to air in summer and Young's to air in fall.
Former NFL star Emmanuel Acho hosted the After the Final Rose special. Longtime host Chris Harrison stepped back from the Bachelor franchise in February after "speaking in a way that perpetuates racism" and will not return to host Season 17.