When Rev. Clementa Pinckney laid in state on Wednesday at the statehouse in Columbia, South Carolina, the Confederate flag continued to fly from the top of a pole just outside. Though Gov. Nikki Haley called for its removal in the days following a massacre that killed nine, including Pinckney, the emblem continues to be displayed as the South Carolina House waits to vote on the issue.
On Saturday morning, a woman climbed that flagpole and removed the Confederate flag. Identified as activist Brittany Ann Byuarim Newsome, 30, of Raleigh, North Carolina, she donned climbing equipment and took the flag down as police and bystanders watched.
“You come against me with hatred and oppression and violence,” Newsome shouted as she removed the flag. “I come against you in the name of God. This flag comes down today.”
While officers waiting at the base of the flag demanded that Newsome descend, she said she would do so — but only after removing the flag.
“I’m coming down. I’m prepared to be arrested,” Newsome told them as she neared the base of the flagpole. She was arrested along with another protester, James Ian Tyson, 30, of Charlotte, North Carolina, who appeared to be assisting her. The two are charged with defacing a monument and could face a maximum fine of $5,000 or a maximum sentence of three years in prison.
Newsome posted bond on Saturday afternoon and was expected to be released soon. She still faces charges, according to South Carolina State Rep. Todd Rutherford, who has signed on to serve as her attorney. Rutherford has been outspoken in his support of removing the flag.
Newsome, a writer and singer known by the nickname “Bree,” became the focus of an outpouring of support on Saturday. A crowd-funding campaign to help with her legal fees quickly more than doubled its stated goal of $20,000. By the afternoon, #FreeBree was a top national trend on Twitter, with celebrities including Ava DuVernay, Michael Moore and Dave Holmes offering support. Moore also appeared to challenge others to imitate Newsome’s actions, asking on Twitter: “Who’s going to be the next person to #takeitdown?”
“The flag was replaced within about an hour and no further damage was done,” the South Carolina Department of Public Safety said in a statement Saturday.
“We removed the flag today because we can’t wait any longer,” Newsome said in a statement released by the group of activists who claim responsibility for the demonstration. “We can’t continue like this another day. It’s time for a new chapter where we are sincere about dismantling white supremacy and building toward true racial justice and equality.”
In contrast, later in the day, about 50 people gathered on the statehouse grounds in a pro-Confederate flag demonstration. One such protester, Alice Dixie Horky, called Haley a traitor for supporting the flag’s removal. She added that a slavery memorial should be more of a reminder of oppression than a flag that she said represents her heritage and sovereignty.
“You seek to eradicate oppression but you oppress us,” said Bobby Crosby, another protester. Along with others, she insisted that a vote should be held so that citizens can determine the fate of the flag. Many shouted “Let the people vote.”
Rev. Jesse Jackson, founder of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, expressed support Newsome’s removal of the flag. “[I’m] Not surprised, in matter of fact, I’m delighted,” he told NBC’s Sara Dallof. “They pulled it down in a non-violent way. Whether they bring it back up or bring it down. Activists have a way of pushing the envelope for change.”
The Confederate flag became a source of renewed controversy in the weeks following the massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. The gunman, Dylann Storm Roof, was reportedly inspired by white supremacists and had been photographed brandishing the Dixie flag.
When Pinckey’s body lay in state in Columbia, the windows on the second floor of the statehouse were covered with black cloth so mourners would not see the flag waving outside.
“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,” the group supporting Newsome wrote in a Saturday statement. “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.”