Bree Newsome, the woman who climbed a flag pole as dawn broke in Columbia, S.C. to remove the Confederate flag that flies in front of the statehouse, has been called “courageous” and a “superhero.”
Newsome and a collaborator were jailed over the weekend and later freed on bond. Now, for the first time she has explained why she decided to act, refusing to wait for lawmakers to debate the issue of removing the flag from the statehouse.
In a statement posted on Blue Nation Review, Newsome said that the racially motivated massacre in a Charleston church on June 17, which left nine people dead, was the turning point.
“A white man had just entered a black church and massacred people as they prayed. He had assassinated a civil rights leader. This was not a page in a textbook I was reading nor an inscription on a monument I was visiting,” Newsome wrote. “This was now. This was real. This was—this is—still happening.”
Newsome is known among activists for her work alongside civil rights groups in North Carolina, Ohio and Florida.The daughter of a longtime dean of Howard University’s School of Divinity, Clarence G. Newsome, she lives in North Carolina, but traces her ancestral heritage to the slave auction blocks of South Carolina.
“You see, I know my history and my heritage,” Newsome continued. “The Confederacy is neither the only legacy of the south nor an admirable one. The southern heritage I embrace is the legacy of a people unbowed by racial oppression.”
She said in the days before her climb on Saturday, she strategized with other activists about how to execute the plan.
They decided that a black woman should be the one to remove cut the flag down and that a white man, activist James Tyson, 30, would help her over the fence “as a sign that our alliance transcended both racial and gender divides.” Tyson was also arrested on Saturday.
“We made this decision because for us, this is not simply about a flag, but rather it is about abolishing the spirit of hatred and oppression in all its forms,” Newsome added.
Newsome said that the Confederate flag’s stars and bars are a symbol of “racial intimidation and fear.”
“The history of the South is also in many ways complex and full of inconvenient truths,” Newsome added. “But in order to move into the future we must reckon with the past.”
The event on Saturday was carefully orchestrated to be noticed far and wide. Within an hour of the flag being removed, however, it was replaced. Still Newsome’s cause spawned the hashtag #FreeBree and a fund to raise money to cover her legal costs.
“The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?” Newsome said as she descended to the ground after removing the flag on Saturday.
In her statement Monday, she reiterated the sentiment: “I refuse to be ruled by fear. How can America be free and be ruled by fear? How can anyone be?”
More on the flag controversy: