Magazine article The Christian Century

Activist Who Took Down Confederate Flag from Statehouse Drew on Faith, Civil Rights Awakening

Magazine article The Christian Century

Activist Who Took Down Confederate Flag from Statehouse Drew on Faith, Civil Rights Awakening

Article excerpt

As she prepared for her mission-scaling the 30-foot flagpole outside the South Carolina statehouse to bring down the Confederate flag--Bree Newsome reread the biblical story of David and Goliath.

Newsome, 30, a youth organizer with Ignite NC, a nonprofit group challenging restrictive voting laws, spoke in mid-July in Hot Springs, North Carolina, at the Wild Goose Festival, the four-day camp revival that celebrates spirituality, arts, and justice.

"I don't even feel like it was my human strength in that moment," Newsome said. "I'm honestly just so humbled."

Newsome climbed the flagpole June 27 to remove the Confederate battle flag, a symbol that represents for many a war to uphold slavery and, later, opposition to civil rights for blacks.

Her action came ten days after the mass shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, in which nine participants in a Bible study, including the pastor, were killed.

She was charged with defacing a monument, a misdemeanor, according to a statement from the South Carolina Department of Public Safety, and could face a fine of up to $5,000 and up to three years in prison.

On July 10, the Confederate flag was lowered for good after state legislators signed a bill authorizing its removal.

"Why did people have to die for people to realize the state had been promoting hate with this symbol?" Newsome asked.

Newsome grew up hearing her grandmother's story of a black neighbor brutally beaten by Ku Klux Klan members because he was a doctor who treated a white woman. She told of ancestors who came through Charleston's slave market and others who died in lynchings.

Invited to speak to the mostly white audience long after the festival schedule was set, Newsome joined a roster of speakers on the theme of "Blessed Are the Peacemakers." This year's gathering honored the festival's "fairy godmother" Phyllis Tickle, the Christian author diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. Other speakers included Ferguson Commission member Traci Blackmon, Moral Monday founder William Barber II, and immigrant advocate Alexia Salvatierra.

"We were in the presence of history," poet Merrill Farnsworth said of Newsome's appearance. "I was really glad to catch a glimpse of the person who did this."

Newsome, who is the daughter of a Baptist minister and former president of Shaw University in Raleigh, said she felt called to a new civil rights campaign following the death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin, a killing she likened to the death of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy mutilated in 1955 after allegedly flirting with a white woman. …

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