Thirty-year-old activist Brittany Ann Byuarium “Bree” Newsome utilized a harness to scale a 30-foot pole in front of the South Carolina statehouse, in Columbia, S.C., Saturday morning to remove the racist Confederate flag. When she made it halfway up, police noticed her and gave her an order to come down, which she ignored.
“You cannot get to me with hatred and oppression and violence,” she shouted back at them while scooting up the pole. “I come against you in the name of God. This flag comes down today!”
After detaching the flag, the Charlotte, N.C., native slowly slid down while reciting prayers. She was promptly apprehended by state police once she reached the ground after they snatched the flag out of her hands. Capitol workers re-hoisted the flag about 45 minutes later. A pro-Confederate flag rally was held later that day, drawing approximately 50 people.
Another North Carolina activist, James Ian Tyson, assisted Newsome, spotting her at the bottom of the pole, keeping it steady. He was also arrested after a crowd gathered and cheered them on. Newsome, who is African-American, and Tyson, who is Caucasian, are part of a multiethnic group of approximately 10 activists who facilitated the self-determining act. They said they were sparked after the slaughter of nine Black people by a white supremacist at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., June 17.
“We removed the flag today because we can’t wait any longer. We can’t continue like this another day,” Newsome said in a statement shortly after the incident. “It’s time for a new chapter where we are sincere about dismantling white supremacy and building toward true racial justice and equality.”
The two 30-year-olds were charged with defacing a monument on state capitol grounds, a misdemeanor that can cost them up to three years in prison and a $5,000 fine. The judge ordered $3,000 bond for each of them. Newsome posted bond shortly afterwards, and her trial has been set for July 27.
“We didn’t see it fit to have the flag stand erect while the people who were massacred were laid to rest under it,” commented organizer Tamika Lewis.
They planned on holding the flag at least until the funerals for the victims were conducted.
“Re-erecting the flag is a blatant slap in the face and shows disregard for human lives as the flag is a symbol of white supremacy,” said Lewis. “It’s really hurtful and a bit disgraceful, re-raising the incredibly offensive flag.”
Monday, June 22, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley agreed with the removal of the Confederate flag in the wake of the murders.
“Prosecutors should treat Ms. Newsome with the same large-hearted measure of justice that inspired her actions. The NAACP stands with our youth and behind the multigenerational band of activists fighting the substance and symbols of bigotry, hatred and intolerance,” said NAACP President Cornell William Brooks.
Newsome led a call-and-answer with activists as police led her away.
“Forward together!” she shouted.
Supporters responded by shouting, “Not one step back!”
Newsome’s arrest sparked a trending hashtag, #FreeBree, on social networks.
“We thank God that Bree Newsome had the courage to take the flag down! #KeepItDown,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. posted on Twitter.
“Her actions represent a nation that is saying NO MORE of letting this symbol of white supremacy fly,” New York City’s first lady Chirlane McCray tweeted.
State Sen. Marlon Kimpson of Charleston said, “There are two ways the Confederate flag can be removed forever. Citizens please engage legally or we lose!”
A fundraising page for Newsome drew more than $50,000 in its first five hours.
In a statement through the Charlotte-Mecklenburg branch of the NAACP, Newsome asked supporters of her “act of revolutionary love” to host nonviolent demonstrations at home instead of traveling to Columbia out of safety concerns.
Watch the video of Newsome removing the flag online at www.youtube.com/watch?v=gr-mt1P94cQ.