Climb of defiance

Bree Newsome talks to Winthrop about what inspired her to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the statehouse

On June 27th 2015, Bree Newsome climbed a flagpole on the grounds of the South Carolina statehouse holding the confederate flag and removed it, coming back down into the waiting arms of the police. Her actions, inspired by Dylan Ruth’s shooting of 9 black parishioners in Charleston, brought national attention to the issue. On July 9th a vote to remove the flag was passed.

As speaker for the 16th annual Dorothy Perry Thompson colloquium in African American studies, Newsome began her talk by describing what it meant for someone to be conscious. And she shared the moment when she became truly conscious of the social issues still at hand in America. A visit to a slave mart museum in Charleston sparked Newsome’s consciousness.

“That day in the slave mart stirred my soul and I felt that deeper connection to my ancestors”

Her involvement in social issues began at a Moral Monday protest in Raleigh in 2013. Newsome encountered many young people protesting against the proposed changes to the voting rights bill that would disenfranchise many voters. Many had been arrested already and it made her question what she was doing to support civil change.

“How much was I taking my rights for granted? What was I doing to ensure that those rights would remain for me and future generations?”

That day, she decided to join a group at a sit-in at the state house and volunteered to be arrested for civil disobedience. Also in the summer of 2013 Trayvon Martin was killed by George Zimmerman. Martin’s death inspired many groups across the state to protest. Newsome visited a group named the Dream Defenders in Florida. This group inspired her with their vigor.

“This was the new movement for black lives, and I was excited to be a part of it. To be part of a cause much greater than myself, to help carry forward the banner for freedom, equality, and justice.”

In 2015, another tragedy would promote Newsome to take drastic action. On June 17, Dylan Roof would kill nine people in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, a historically African American church. This would inspire Newsome to remove the Confederate flag from the South Carolina statehouse.

  After a day and a half of climbing training with a Green Peace activist, Bree Newsome and James Tyson who was arrested alongside her and supported her from the base of the pole, decided to remove the flag to show the power of protest and people working together. Newsome believed it was time to take action.

“We couldn’t wait for South Carolina to do the right thing, we had been waiting for South Carolina to do the right thing for over a hundred years regarding racial justice and equality.”

Newsome’s actions focused the national attention on the issue around the flag, and it was removed on July 9. She believes that any sacrifices she made are simply a continuation of the sacrifices men and women have made for hundreds of years in the name of social justice.

“I bring everything I have to the cause of freedom. It’s a conscious choice I have made to dedicate myself to the causes of democracy and liberation even to the point of putting my body on the line.”

Since removing the flag, Newsome has traveled the country speaking about activism and advocating for social change. She continues to work with activist groups and tries to inspire others to work towards the goal of a better future.

“The universal struggle of humanity toward a society that is truly free and that truly recognizes the rights of all individuals, this is the cause greater than myself that I risked my life for that day and continue to fight for.”

Newsome believes that this generation can and has changed the world. To her, activism takes many forms, not everyone can tear down a symbol of racism, what’s important is doing what you feel is right.

“The only question to ask then yourself is, what will be my contribution? Where will I jump in to help humanity lift itself up? Ask this of yourself. Answer it for yourself, and have the courage to act on your convictions”