On the morning of June 27, 2015, activists posing as joggers signal to one of their comrades that the police have momentarily turned their attention away from the flagpole outside the South Carolina State House. Having received the signal, Brittany “Bree” Newsome scales the pole, takes down the Confederate flag that was flying there and is placed under arrest. Newsome’s actions reverberated across the nation and eventually resulted in the state of South Carolina permanently removing the flag from its capitol.
Newsome’s civil disobedience came just ten days after a white supremacist murdered nine African Americans in a bible study at a historically Black church in Charleston, South Carolina. Newsome heard President Barack Obama‘s eulogy for one of the victims, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, as she drove to Columbia. In preparation, she practiced climbing and received advice from Greenpeace activists with experience scaling trees. As she held the flag in her hands, a police officer ordered her to come down, to which she responded, “You come against me with hatred and oppression and violence. I come against you in the name of God. This flag comes down today.” She recited Psalm 23 as she was taken to jail.
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Although the flag was flying again within an hour, Newsome’s actions had an immediate and lasting effect. Civil rights leaders and other prominent cultural figures spoke out against the flag and in support of Newsome, with NBA star Dwyane Wade and filmmaker Michael Moore both offering to pay her bail. The protest drew attention to the many Confederate symbols that still held places of public prominence across the American South, and this attention ultimately forced the state of South Carolina to act.
On July 9, the Republican-dominated legislature of South Carolina passed a bill permanently removing the flag from the capitol building, and Republican Governor Nikki Haley quickly signed it. Newsome later connected her actions to acts of civil disobedience from the first civil rights era, equating it to the way “that it demonstrated power and agency for the Greensboro Four to go and sit down at the Woolworth’s counter. You’re saying we can’t sit here? We’re going to sit here. You’re saying we can’t lower this flag? We are going to lower this flag today. It was just a feeling of triumph.”