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Newsome: string of events led to taking down Confederate flag

  • woman at podium
  • woman at podium

Posted on January 17, 2018

The actions that led Bree Newsome to climb a flagpole in South Carolina in 2015 and remove a Confederate flag were not fleeting or haphazard.

It took a week of planning with a group of activists, but it really had roots two years before when Newsome said she had "an awakening of my consciousness."

Newsome gave a keynote address January 17 in the Kirkhof Center, continuing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Week activities on campus.

The North Carolina resident said the string of events started in 2013 when she and her family visited a historic slave market building in South Carolina. 

"I stood there with my family and thought about what it would have been like to be sold at the market," she said. "I felt a deeper connection to my ancestors."

At the same time, Newsome said North Carolina lawmakers were moving to change the state's voting laws, making it more difficult for college students and people of color to vote. 

Later that year, George Zimmerman was acquitted in the killing of Trayvon Martin. In June, an admitted white supremacist killed nine members of Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Newsome said after the mass shooting, the U.S. and state flags were flown at half-staff while the Confederate flag remained at top.

Newsome, a recognized community organizer, met with others and decided to remove the flag within a week's time. She said she trained with Greenpeace to learn how to scale the pole. A white accomplice, James Tyson, guarded the flag's base, they were arrested and charged with misdemeanors. 

She said she learned that courage is rooted in deep faith, and the modern activist movement is full of leaders. Removing the flag was more than an act of civil disobedience, she said, it was about "abolishing a spirit of hatred in all its forms."

"I also learned that this modern movement is not leaderless; no, it's leaderful," she said. "Everyone can help lead the way. We need all hands on deck."

Activities to commemorate the legacy of King continue on campus through January 20; visit gvsu.edu/mlk to learn more.