Bree Newsome of Charlotte, North Carolina, is not your average southern girl. She’s been blessed with many gifts; she is athletically built and has lovely, brown skin like the color of an early autumn chestnut. She speaks thoughtfully while using a confident and clear tone and, when she does speak, people listen. Newsome is cosmopolitan, politically aware, a classically trained musician, an award winning filmmaker, a graduate of NYU’s prestigious Tisch School of the Arts, the lead vocalist of a retro ’70s style funk bar band, looks great in a climbing harness and handcuffs, and she’s a freedom fighter of the first order.
Last Saturday, the final three attributes on the list combined to make Ms. Newsome an Internet-breaking sensation. While wearing the harness, she courageously climbed a flagpole in an act of civil disobedience that reminded this observer of Rosa Parks defiantly choosing to sit down in the front of a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama 60 years ago. By doing so, both Ms. Parks and Ms. Newsome struck a blow for freedom.
The disobedient Ms. Newsome broke an unjust law that allows an archaic symbol of white supremacy to fly unfettered over property financed by taxpayers of all kinds. By lowering the state sanctioned Confederate flag, waving it for all to see, and then descending into the waiting arms of the local authorities, she brought an already raging controversy into sharp relief: there is no just place for a symbol of the failed secession – the rebel states who fought to protect the institution of slavery – to fly on publicly financed U.S. soil. While sliding down the pole and holding the captured flag, she quoted biblical scripture and informed the waiting officers that she was, “prepared to be arrested.” That’s when she was handcuffed.
It was a perfect counterpoint to the actions of Dylan Roof, the alleged murderer of nine unarmed churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina who had a taste for displaying the controversial symbol in online photographs.
Previously, controversy raged over South Carolina’s right to fly the symbol of oppression, terror, treason, sedition, and slavery. This led to an NACCP organized economic boycott that resulted in $7 billion in lost revenue from tourism. Controversy over the legitimacy of the flag was sparked again by the savage acts committed at Mother Emanuel. William J. Barber II, the President of North Carolina’s NAACP, said of Ms. Newsome’s lowering of the flag, “We stand in solidarity with her, and the deep commitment which she has to justice, love, and true inter-racial community. We stand with her as she is our family.”
Once Bree was arrested, members of the progressive and creative Twitter community weighed in; Oscar winning documentarian, Michael Moore, tweeted, “Friends of @BreeNewsome – I will pay her bail or any legal fees she has. Please let her know this. #Charleston #TakeDownThatFlag.”
Ava Du Vernay, the director of the Academy Award snubbed, civil rights epic “Selma” referenced rumors that Marvel is interested in her directing “The Black Panther” and tweeted her support, “Yes. I hope I get the call to direct the motion picture about a black superhero I admire. Her name is @BreeNewsome.
A crowdfunding campaign for legal fees was mounted. It has so far yielded over $110,000, and minority leader of the South Carolina state legislature (D) Todd Rutherford will represent Ms. Newsome in her upcoming trial. She and her flag lowering co-conspirator, James Ian Tyson, face charges of defacing a public monument and a possible maximum sentence of three years in jail.
While eulogizing Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the slain pastor of Mother Emmanuel and a sitting member of the South Carolina State Legislature, Barack Obama said, “Over the course of centuries, black churches served as ‘hush harbors’ where slaves could worship in safety; praise houses where their free descendants could gather and shout hallelujah, rest stops for the weary along the Underground Railroad; bunkers for the foot soldiers of the Civil Rights Movement. They have been, and continue to be, community centers where we organize for jobs and justice; places of scholarship and network; places where children are loved and fed and kept out of harm’s way, and told that they are beautiful and smart and taught that they matter. That’s what happens in church.”
In a statement that she issued immediately after her arrest, Ms. Newsome (who chose not to participate in this story) referenced the Emmanuel Massacre and the bombing of four little girls in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1964 and said this, “Not long ago, I had watched the beginning of Selma, the reenactment of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing and had shuddered at the horrors of history.
But this was neither a scene from a movie nor was it the past. A white man had just entered a black church and massacred people as they prayed. He had assassinated a civil rights leader. This was not a page in a textbook I was reading nor an inscription on a monument I was visiting.
This was now.
This was real.
This was—this is—still happening.”
No one can do everything, but each of us can do something and that’s precisely what Bree Newsome did. Something. She is one of those fully grown beautiful children that Obama referred to in his eulogy.
As Complex Magazine said in an online report on Ms. Newsome, “Not every superhero wears a cape.” Sometimes they wear handcuffs.