I removed the flag not only in defiance of those who enslaved my ancestors in the southern United States, but also in defiance of the oppression that continues against black people globally. I did it for all the fierce black women on the front lines of the movement and for all the little black girls who are watching us. I did it because I am free.
On June 27, 2015, Americans watched an unnamed woman scale a 30-foot pole as she removed the confederate flag from outside the state Capitol building in Charleston, South Carolina. We soon learned her name was Brittany "Bree" Newsome.
Newsome is a graduate of New York University's Tisch School of the Arts and holds a BFA degree in Film & Television. While in high school, Newsome composed music for the Baltimore Choral Arts Society. In college, she won several film competitions and since then has released an EP titled #StayStrong: A Love Song To Freedom Fighters. She believes that art is activism.
The courageous 30-year-old filmmaker, activist and songstress' famous action took place one day after President Obama eulogized Reverend and State Senator Clementa Pinckney, who was one of 9 shooting victims in "Mother Emmanuel" AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Newsome worked with a team of 10 people who strategically planned to film the removal of the flag so that the world could see what democracy looks like. While Newsome is a filmmaker she gives credit to Todd Zimmer, a fellow organizer, who envisioned the visual that would go on to have an impact beyond measure.
As she scaled her way to victory she shouted, "You come against me with hatred ... I come against you in the name of God. This flag comes down today!" On her way down, carrying the confederate flag, she recited the Lord's Prayer and Psalm 27: "Teach me your way, Lord; lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors. Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes, for false witnesses rise up against me, spouting malicious accusations."
On the ground she was met with both cheerleaders and adversaries. Some called her a hero while others hurled racial slurs that were woven into the fabric of the Confederate flags' history.
Asked by a reporter from Charleston's WIS TV why she removed the flag, Newsome said, "We [for she did not plan the action alone] removed the flag today because we can't wait any longer. We can't continue like this another day. It's time for a new chapter where we are sincere about dismantling white supremacy and building toward true racial justice and equality. Every day that the flag is up there is an endorsement of hate."
"We are regular human beings, daughters, sons, mothers, fathers, Carolinians, educators, and activists —both black and white— who believe in the fundamental idea of humanity," said an unidentified member of Newsome's group. "The flag we removed is one of the most familiar remnants of white supremacy that supports the idea that there is still a reigning group of individuals who control our freedom, while tacitly supporting white Americans when they commit heinous and racially charged hate crimes against Blacks and People of Color. We took this task in our own hands because our President, Governor, mayors, legislators, and councilmen had a moral duty to remove the flag but failed to act. We could not sit by and watch the victims of the Charleston Massacre be laid to rest while the inspiration for their deaths continued to fly above their caskets."
Within minutes of returning to the ground Newsome and another activist James Ian Tyson were arrested. [Tyson helped holster Newsome and waited for her at the bottom of the pole.] Just hours after the flag was taken down it was raised again. Rallies held by white supremacists and advocates of the flag were held in cities around the country.
In less than 24 hours the hashtag #FreeBree surfaced on the Internet along with coverage of the historic moment. Over $80,000 was crowd funded for her bail. In total, 4,943 people raised $125,705 on Indiegogo for Newsome to support whatever financial obligations she might face due to her arrest.
In an interview with ELLE magazine a year after her action, Newsome explained why the viral video was key. "It mattered that scaling the flagpole was difficult. The physical battle to climb up there and get that flag was like the struggle to dismantle systemic racism. Nothing about it is easy."
National moments of unrest due to the recurring acts of brutality against black people is what motivated Newsome's civil disobedience. When living, breathing and being black is a protest in America it calls for constant action. She along with countless others are now regarded as notable millennials within the modern civil rights movement.
Newsome currently works as a field organizer in Charlotte, North Carolina for IgniteNC where her work is dedicated to uplifting under-resourced communities.