Activist who took down Confederate flag says it’s ‘my calling as a freedom fighter’

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(CNN) — The woman who shimmied up a flagpole at the South Carolina state capitol last week and removed the Confederate battle flag told CNN she has no regrets about doing it, even if she serves time for it.

Bree Newsome, a filmmaker and activist from Charlotte, North Carolina, told CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront” that she accepts potential jail time as “part of my calling as a freedom fighter.”

Newsome and fellow activist James Tyson were charged with defacing state property after Newsome scaled the 30-foot pole Saturday and cut down the flag. She and Tyson, who helped her from the ground, face three years in prison on the misdemeanor and/or a fine of up to $5,000.

She told guest anchor Kate Bolduan that she wanted to highlight an unjust situation.

She called the battle flag “this symbol of hate, this symbol of treason.”

When asked about a recent poll that suggested most people see the Confederate flag as a symbol of Southern pride, Newsome said it shows people need to be better educated about the history of the Civil War.

She hoped her actions and that of the state, which had a black worker put the flag back up about half an hour later, draw attention to a moral dilemma.

“It’s a moment for society to do a gut check of our values,” Newsome said.

On her Facebook page, Newsome says she is a western North Carolina field organizer for Ignite NC, which protests voter laws it sees as discriminatory.

After she finishes doing her round of media interviews, she said, she’ll go back to the same thing she was doing before her time on the flagpole and in the spotlight.

“The work continues until we are no longer in a place of being dependent on institutions and systems that don’t value our lives.”

Renewed debate over Confederate flags

Newsome removed the flag hours before a pro-flag rally was scheduled to take place at the monument in Columbia. By the time the flag was raised again, the moment had made its mark in the ongoing debate over the Confederate banner on the State House grounds — and its value in American society 150 years after the end of the Civil War.

South Carolina lawmakers raised the universally known Confederate emblem over the State House in 1961, officially in honor of the war’s centennial. But it was also a time of growing momentum in the civil rights movement, and white leaders in the South were digging their heels in against efforts to end segregation. For nearly 40 years it flew under the U.S. and state flag, above the seat of government, until a compromise moved it to a flagpole next to a soldiers’ monument.

That move didn’t satisfy opponents, who maintained that the flag’s display on the grounds amounted to tacit state endorsement of white supremacy.

But efforts to remove it had gone nowhere in the years before the night of June 17, when nine people who had gathered for Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston were massacred. All nine victims were African-American, including the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who also was a state senator.

After the accused shooter, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, was arrested the next day in North Carolina, a website surfaced showing a racist manifesto and 60 photos of Roof, some of them showing him waving Confederate flags while armed.

The revelations spurred politicians around the South to re-examine the placement of Confederate flags on everything from government property to state-issued license plates amid national debate over its meaning.

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