Although South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley called for the takedown of the Confederate flag from government buildings following the deadly Charleston church shooting, the flag continued to reside outside the State Capitol, waiting for lawmakers to vote on the matter. Instead, Bree Newsome took matters into her own hands: On Saturday morning, the activist scaled the flagpole outside the South Carolina State Capitol in Columbia and took down the Confederate flag herself.
“We removed the flag today because we can’t wait any longer. We can’t continue like this another day,” Newsome said in a statement. “It’s time for a new chapter where we are sincere about dismantling white supremacy and building toward true racial justice and equality.” Newsome acted on behalf of a “multiracial group led by teachers and local activists,” as well as the Black Lives Matter movement.
As Newsome made her way down the flagpole quoting scripture (“The Lord is my light and my salvation. Who shall I fear?”), authorities gathered and arrested the activist and a male dressed as a construction worker who assisted her. Both were charged with defacing a monument, CNN reports. An hour later, the Confederate flag was once again atop the State Capitol’s flagpole, but Newsome’s actions and subsequent arrest quickly spawned the hashtag #FreeBree, as well as #KeepItDown, referring to the flag itself.
In a statement, the group of activists affiliated with Newsome explained their actions. “We are regular human beings, daughters, sons, mothers, fathers, Carolinians, educators, and activist —both black and white— who believe in the fundamental idea of humanity,” they wrote. “The flag we removed is one of the most familiar remnants of white supremacy that supports the idea that there is still a reigning group of individuals who control our freedom, while tacitly supporting white Americans when they commit heinous and racially charged hate crimes against Blacks and People of Color.
“We took this task in our own hands because our, President, Governor, mayors, legislators, and councilmen had a moral duty to remove the flag but failed to act,” they continued. “We could not sit by and watch the victims of the Charleston Massacre be laid to rest while the inspiration for their deaths continue to fly above their caskets. We call all people to join us and stand as a united front, to take an active role towards liberating ourselves through the dismantlement of the largest form of our oppression, white supremacy. Let this day be the start towards true human progress.”
Newsome’s takedown of the Confederate flag comes in a week where many major retailers, including Walmart, Amazon and eBay, pledged to remove merchandise boasting the battle flag. Similarly, Apple’s iTunes App Store banned non-educational apps that prominently featured the Confederate flag.