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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