Activist Bree Newsome speaks at The College

On Wednesday Feb. 22, activist Bree Newsome spoke at the College of Charleston’s Sottile Theatre. Bree, a North Carolina native, gained national fame in 2015 when she was arrested for removing the Confederate flag from the South Carolina State House.

The main point of Newsome’s lecture was to ask her audience if they were “woke,” or conscious about the social injustices in our country. She said that her moment of awareness happened in the summer of 2013 when she came to Charleston and visited an old slave mart.

In 2015, Bree Newsome went down in history upon climbing the South Carolina State House flagpole and physically removing the Confederate flag – although she faced arrest, her actions have inspired many all over the country. (Photo courtesy of R Kurtz via the Flickr Creative Commons)

As she recalled how her third great grandparents were enslaved in SC, she began to feel a deeper connection to what slave history meant for the future of the United States. Newsome’s connection to Charleston was seen again after the shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in 2015. It was during that time when the Confederate flag controversy began, and many residents began protesting the Confederate flag that flew on the South Carolina State House grounds. Newsome argued that since 1961, the flag symbolized the oppression of the black community.

It was Newsome’s newfound awareness that pushed her to climb the flagpole and remove the symbolic flag. Bree revealed the amount of decision making that went into who climbed the pole, and after eliminating those who could not risk jail time and did not have the physical ability to climb, only three were left as options-with Newsome being the only person of color.

After realizing how powerful it would be to have a black woman remove the flag, Newsome was chosen as the climber. The person who helped her climb the fence was also strategically picked, as he was a white male. The demonstration of a white male helping a black female showcased empowerment and unity within the community, Newsome said.

Newsome’s choice to risk her life for social activism was a choice not only pushed by her consciousness, but her understanding of history. She noticed two distinct historical timelines forming, and how our current social dilemma parallels what happened decades ago. “Turmoil is an indication that the ground is right to sow the seeds of social change,” Bree stated near the end of her talk.

As history repeats itself with another civil rights movement, she urges everyone to become an agent of change and contribute what skills they have. She concluded her talk by telling her audience, if you weren’t “woke” before, now would be the time to become conscious about the history and current issues involving social rights.

Newsome’s talk was inspiring, but also caused controversy as protests began outside the Sottile Theatre. Inside the theatre, Newsome had caught everyone’s attention with her riveting talk, and was supported by rounds of applause from her audience.

A freshman from the College, Sarah Shetssel, remarked that she, “felt inspired by what she [Newsome] said because she talked about how anyone can be an activist.”

Another student, Reilly Kilpatrick, was inspired by Bree’s vulnerability with the audience, and how, “she reminded us that the life of an activist is often not easy, but that it is completely necessary.”

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