On her website, Bree Newsome describes herself with a collection of hyphens: “Writer – Director – Producer – Singer – Songwriter – Activist – Consultant – Speaker.” Today she alphabetized that list and moved “Activist” to the front.
Earlier this morning, she hopped the fenced-in area protecting the flagpole from which the Confederate battle flag has flown since 2000 in front of the South Carolina statehouse, climbed the pole, and cut down that odious bolt of cloth that American history somehow simultaneously celebrates and reviles.
In a statement, she wrote, “We removed the flag today because we can’t wait any longer. We can’t continue like this another day,” it said. “It’s time for a new chapter where we are sincere about dismantling white supremacy and building toward true racial justice and equality.” After she came down, she was arrested, and the odious bolt of cloth that American history simultaneously celebrates and reviles was restored to its place.
South Carolina’s governor announced last week that she supports legislative measures to take the flag down from its place; for many people, its history as a symbol is utterly ugly, and the murders of nine in their own church by a young white supremacist and terrorist (there’s some hyphenation for you) made the measure one even she could support. The terrorist-white supremacist had posted photos of himself online wrapped by the odious bit of cloth along with writings in which he espoused all the hatred that that odious bit of cloth symbolizes.
The killer certainly seemed (and seems) to have no questions in his mind what the Confederate battle flag and all the related Confederate-era items symbolize. He embraced those race hatreds fully, and he wrapped himself in that flag. (Words, and emphasis, mine.)
But there is more than a chance that the South Carolina legislature will wait for the current passions of this moment to settle down and then, firmly and legally, do nothing and leave it flying. It’s just a symbol, some of the legislators have argued on the record. There was even a pro-Confederate symbols rally at the statehouse this morning when Ms. Newsome took her action. One man was quoted in the News & Observer as saying about it, “This is not a flag of hate. It’s a flag of heritage, and we have a right to our heritage.” Leland Browder of Greenville added, “And, you know, I’m from the South and proud of the South and, you know, proud of this flag.”
That odious bolt of cloth’s heritage is hate. That man is mistaken in his beliefs, and that is not okay. That is, he can make the mistake, because he was educated to believe that mistake, but he and others like him will be re-learning that heritage soon. A history lesson that is predicated on drowning out history is not history. It does not re-enslave black Americans every day that it is celebrated, but it comes too damn close. The insistence that that odious bolt of cloth is a celebration of a clean history demands too many people to participate in a lie. Too much blood has been shed to maintain that lie; last week’s cold-blooded murders finally crossed that line from too much to enough.
Southern politicians, of both major political parties, have set white people against black people for many years, and a very successful marketing campaign of prejudice waged beginning in the 1940s declared that that odious bolt of cloth was about the war and the valiant ancestors who fought in it and not about why the war was fought. Bree Newsome and others like her know better.
She is charged with defacing monuments on state Capitol grounds, which in South Carolina is a misdemeanor that carries a fine of up to $5000 and/or a jail sentence of up to three years. An online campaign for her defense has been established and in four hours, almost twice the requested $20,000 has been raised for bail: Bail for Bree Newsome.
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If only I lived in the U.S. (and had money), I could help free Bree. Yes to equality and justice!
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Amen! Thanks for calling attention to this, Mark. http://judydykstrabrown.com/2015/06/27/idyllic-schemata/
Great summary, Mark. “Southern heritage”? Talk about a hijacked phrase. Southern heritage does not mean whitewashing away millions of people whose ancestors were transported in chains across the Atlantic, sold at auction, humiliated and whipped with their families broken in the name of commerce–and lynched. Southern heritage includes blues, jazz, bluegrass, world-class literature, soul food, hot biscuits and cornbread, barbecue, lovely manners, folklore galore from an immigrant population (different continents) dating from the late 1500s and forward, a multitude of rich regional accents, innovative cuisine in New South cities, melting pot culture in New Orleans. . . . The Civil War was a national tragedy that robbed hundreds of thousands of lives of different populations on both sides. Southern history belongs in museums and on battlefields to remind us not to repeat the past. It’s the story of a generation wasted–not glory. Tell the truth & #takeitdown
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Reblogged this on The Gad About Town and commented:
Bree Newsome, the brave activist who on Saturday briefly brought down the Confederate battle flag from its place of (dubious) honor in front of the South Carolina statehouse was released from jail later that same day after posting bond. She and a helper, James Ian Tyson, were both arrested after they hopped the wrought iron fence that protects the flagpole from such actions. Ms. Newsome climbed the flagpole alone, however. Mr. Tyson was also released after posting bond that day.
A fundraising campaign was launched that same day to help Ms. Newsome afford whatever legal costs will be incurred. Here is the website: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/bail-for-bree-newsome. As of right now, 2:27 p.m., Monday, June 29, precisely 4478 donations totaling $114,278 have been pledged, almost six times greater than the amount first sought.
Her actions caught the attention and imagination of many people around the world; the image of Ms. Newsome removing that odious bolt of hated cloth from a place of honor will remain beloved in history for as long as lovers of justice cherish such moments.–Mark, The Gad About Town
As a Southerner, I can’t agree much more with what you’ve said, Mark. The Confederate flag has no place in government or public institutions. That said–and I don’t think you’re saying this, though some might–even this odious symbol has a place, I think, because to censor it would be a perilous thing. (Justice Holmes called this idea ‘freedom for the thought that we hate’.) I look at it this way, if I see someone who displays the flag on their car/truck/motorcycle or house or T-shirt, then I can feel free to brand them a racist bigot, if I so choose, but they do have a right to their First Amendment expression. They just don’t have the right to do a cultural freak out–and certainly never the right to commit violence–when I or others judge them or speak out against whatever idiocy they’ve espoused. But I don’t think the flag needs to go away completely. Then, also, it could be put to good use in museums as a sort of ‘word to the wise’ that we are all brothers (and sisters), no matter our skin color or region, religion or dialect, and we shouldn’t kill one another.
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