Since Dylann Roof took the lives of nine innocent churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, countless Americans have called for the state government to remove the Confederate battle flag that still flies above the Statehouse, symbolizing the Confederacy and its hostility toward black Americans. Petitions, hashtag campaigns and the testimonies of thought leaders have all demanded the flag's removal, but the South Carolina legislature has yet to act. So one brave activist took the matter into her own hands Saturday by scaling the flag pole and tearing down the destructive symbol herself. Now that activist, Bree Newsome, has revealed her powerful reasons for doing so.
The Charleston Massacre, Newsome told the Blue Nation Review in an exclusive statement Monday, "shook me to the core of my being." But while the attack may have reminded her of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in 1963, as depicted in the film Selma, Roof's violent act "was not a page in a textbook I was reading nor an inscription on a monument I was visiting," she said. "This was now. This was real."
Newsome has long engaged in racial justice activism, participating in the Moral Monday movement related to voting rights, demanding justice for Trayvon Martin, marching in defense of victims of police brutality and visiting with black residents of Baltimore. In just the past week, she said, the arson attacks aimed at black churches across the South represent a continued call for justice.
"For far too long, white supremacy has dominated the politics of America, resulting in the creation of racist laws and cultural practices designed to subjugate non-whites," Newsome said. "And the emblem of the confederacy, the stars and bars, in all its manifestations, has long been the most recognizable banner of this political ideology ... It's a reminder how, for centuries, the oppressive status quo has been undergirded by white supremacist violence with the tacit approval of too many political leaders."
Newsome was not only moved to act based on the flag's symbolic meaning in the American landscape, but also to protest the persistent oppression black communities all over the world face.
"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 in 2015, including the ongoing ethnic cleansing in the Dominican Republic," Newsome explained. "I did it in solidarity with the South African students who toppled a statue of the white supremacist, colonialist Cecil Rhodes. 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."
And others are grateful: More than $75,000 has been raised to fund Newsome's legal expenses — undoubtedly thanks in no small part to social media campaigns like #FreeBree — according to the Blue Nation Review. Renowned defense attorney Todd Rutherford has reportedly agree to represent Newsome and her ally James Ian Tyson, who was also arrested, the Review reported.
But this is hardly the end of this fight, Newsome assured.
"It is important to remember that our struggle doesn't end when the flag comes down," she said. "We must fight with all vigor now so that our grandchildren aren't still fighting these battles in another 50 years. Black Lives Matter. This is non-negotiable."