“You can’t help it. An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times,” Nina Simone once stated.
This quote headed the lecture given by civil activist, Bree Newsome, as she attested to just that. An artist, spearheading drives that reflect many of the recent events fueling the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
Newsome is the most known for her self-willed removal of the confederate flag from South Carolina’s state capitol in June 2015. As an idea she contemplated with for some time, it came to one conclusion, “the flag comes down today!”
Newsome was not alone. Along with her fellow supporters, helping her was James Tyson. Tyson barely knew her, but courageously chose to wrap his fingers around the flagpole and act as a barrier between her and the police while they threatened to taser her.
She expressed that she believed it wasn’t the actual flag that caused the continuing oppression of African-American people, but what the flag stood for in a country that declared freedom for all. The creator of the confederate flag, (which incorporates the Rebel flag as we know today) was William Thompson. His intention for making the flag was this:
“As a people we are fighting to maintain the heavenly ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race; a white flag would thus be [emblematic] of our cause… it would soon take rank among the proudest ensigns of the nations, and be hailed by the civilized world as the white man’s flag.”
Newsome became an agent of change after questioning herself, “what am I doing as an individual?”
A key factor in her progress for racial justice she said was her desire and thirst for more knowledge of African-American history.
She studied over police brutalities and church massacres that paid similar homage to times when blacks, by law, were segregated from whites. Instances like Trayvon Martin in 2013 mirrored Emmett Till in 1955, which in both cases, the men responsible, were acquitted. The Emmanuel Methodist Episcopal Church shooting in 2015 favored much to the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in 1963. History can find a way to repeat itself when hating on a person’s skin color had never been completely eradicated by a federally mandated law.
She also took to heart personal stories that had been shared to her from family members. Stories passed from her grandmother, of her seeing her neighbor being dragged from his own house by members of the Ku Klux Klan for treating a white woman as a black Physician. Newsome spoke of her great uncle being lynched for the simple fact that his skin color was taken as a sign of inferiority.
The night showcased that African-American history does not begin with slavery. African people strived for many years before the introduction of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Slavery was an event that casted shame on the oppressor and not the oppressed. The basis of the modern United States was built on the backs oppressed people of color and yet is rarely touched upon in schools. Newsome’s message expressed that blacks in America seemed to have been taught to hate themselves in order to make their white counterparts most comfortable.
Although slavery has been outlawed for more than a hundred years, Newsome talked about how mental captivity has been a formulated system of subjugation that resonates among this country to this day.
Bree Newsome engulfed herself in acts that spoke out about racial inequality pertaining to African-Americans. Marches, sit-ins, speeches and protests became an adopted lifestyle.
When asked about the apparent chaotic rallies in Ferguson over the death of Michael Brown, Newsome responded with “turmoil is the grounds for which the seeds of social justice can be sewn.”
As a civil activist, she has gone out of her way to pave a way for future leaders of change. She believes that a dream continually deferred is not a plan of action, but has faith that anyone can make a change when they don’t allow themselves to get lost in the process. It’s not about how, it’s about why.
Her plans for after her lecture series are to return to her community in North Carolina and work on reforms in education and mass popular political culture.
Newsome ended off on this note, “I want to be replaceable.” A leader is a person who empowers, inspires, and motivates. She hopes there will be a day when she is no longer able to serve, that others will pick up where she left off. People have the immense audacity to think and feel and sense above any other species in the animal kingdom and what we do is allow our differences to keep us divided.
The activist expressed that it does not take everyone to be in the streets, to be holding signs or shaking fists. It take educators, lawyers, law enforcement; it takes courage.
Newsome’s message to those in the audience was that as leaders, one should be replaceable in the enormous effect that their role in social justice will never be silenced.