Bree Newsome’s social justice fight continues two years after taking down the Confederate flag in South Carolina ‘Staying quiet is also like its own form of death’

It has been more than two years since Bree Newsome became a household name for climbing a 30-foot flagpole on the grounds of the South Carolina statehouse and removing the Confederate flag. She knew jail would follow. However, Newsome, now 32, knew it was a task she had to do.

The mood in South Carolina at the time was bleak following the evening of June 17, 2015, when Dylann Roof gunned down nine black members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The flag that Newsome removed was originally raised in 1961 as a statement of opposition to the civil rights movement. Many individuals have always hated what the flag represents.

In many communities, Newsome became a hero and her actions caused a domino effect. In August, two years after Newsome’s act, 22-year-old Takiya Thompson was arrested after helping to take down a Confederate statue in Durham, North Carolina. Thompson was charged with disorderly conduct by injury to a statue, damage to real property, participation in a riot with property damage in excess of $1,500 — and inciting others to riot where there is property damage in excess of $1,500, according to the Durham County Sheriff’s Office. This was following a white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia, that turned deadly and prompted a call to action by many people for the removal of Confederate statues.

“I just see this shifting in the consciousness, and people just kind of reaching a point where we just can’t be quiet anymore, because I think there has been, in some ways, this belief that we keep ourselves quiet in order to survive,” Newsome said. “But staying quiet is also like its own form of death. I think people are just tired of living that form of death.”

Newsome is now a local organizer in Charlotte, North Carolina, and focusing on housing.

“We have a real affordable housing crisis going on in our city, as many cities around the country are,” Newsome said. “We have communities that were redlined in the late Sixties, that’s kind of when the cities drew, basically, lines around areas that were predominantly black that had been segregated. So, these are areas that were basically divested from, by the city and now they are prime real estate. So we have a lot of developers wanting to develop in this land, but the folks who have lived here for decades are not benefiting from it. So, housing remains an ongoing justice issue.”

Newsome says housing is a human right.

“A lot of times people say, well, it’s just a byproduct of development. But, it’s really important, again, to understand why,” Newsome said. “That’s obviously one of the basic things that we need in order to live. Then, it’s a justice issue, because we’re still very segregated. Segregation is not forced upon us anymore, it’s not part of the law, but we are still largely racially and economically segregated. How are we addressing any of these issues with wealth and with race if folks are being pushed out of their homes?”

Newsome’s father, Clarence G. Newsome, served as the dean of the Howard University School of Divinity and was the president of both Shaw University and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. Her mother spent her career as an educator addressing the achievement gap. Newsome studied film at the New York University Tisch School of the Arts.

She spoke to The Undefeated about social justice, today’s battle for equality and her plans.


How do you feel about today’s racial climate?

What we are seeing today is kind of part of a pattern, I would say, in history. On one hand, I was born in ’85; in my lifetime it is maybe one of the most tense periods, racially, that I have experienced. But, when I look back over the history of America, it’s kind of part of a pattern where racial tensions kind of ebb and flow.

We’re integrating certain institutions. We obviously had the election of the nation’s first black president. Now what we’re seeing is, again, this period of racist backlash to that. But there is, kind of, this pattern of like, we make this progress forward and then there is this racist backlash. No, it’s not as bad, and I think if you talk to most folks, like my grandmother, my grandmother is 91 years old. When she saw on TV the police in Ferguson tear-gassing folks in their yard, she said, ‘It reminds me of the Ku Klux Klan.’ So, on one hand, yes, we’ve gone far, but clearly we haven’t gone far enough at all.

When I look at what is going on today, the main thing it says to me is that we cannot rest on our laurels. And that’s part of what spurred me toward becoming an activist in the first place, it was after the Trayvon Martin case.

What do you think about the protests for Colin Kaepernick?

I think that’s amazing. I support that. Two histories in America that I find really fascinating is the treatment of black veterans and the treatment of black athletes. … Even at the college level, there’s a real justice issue around the treatment of black athletes. They are clearly the majority, especially when you are talking about a sport like football. The majority of athletes are black men. They generate billions of dollars for this industry, not just in pro football, but also in college football. In many ways they are exploited. They are exploited physically. We see the kind of damage that is done physically to their bodies.

Part of what I think is really awesome about what is happening right now is there’s greater solidarity. In some ways, it’s bigger than the NFL. It’s about protesting for Colin Kaepernick to have a fair shot, but it’s also kind of bigger than that because it’s like, he has a right, as a human being, to speak. Especially to speak about a system that is killing us. When he’s out of uniform, and he’s off the field and he’s just driving down the street, he has just as much a chance of getting killed by the police as anybody else. I think that that is sometimes what people forget. They think just because a black man puts on a uniform and goes in to play football that he is supposed to disconnect from all the other realities of the nation in which he lives.

Do you recall the first thing you did as an activist?

I don’t know if you remember the Moral Monday movement that was happening here in North Carolina. That was organized by Reverend Barber and the North Carolina state chapter of NAACP. This was back in 2013. This was the same summer that George Zimmerman was acquitted. This is the same summer that the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. North Carolina just went H.A.M. on the voting issue. They hadn’t yet passed it, but they brought up this legislation, House Bill 589, and at first it was this five-page bill that focused on student voter ID. It said the students could no longer use their IDs to vote.

I go up to this Moral Monday protest about voting rights. At that time, I wasn’t considering myself an activist. I was very much aware of things that were going on. Literally overnight, between that Monday and the Tuesday, they sent the bill from the House to the Senate and they added almost 50 more pages to the bill. It was clear that they were targeting black people. They had things like ending Sunday voting.

That was the wake-up moment for me. I had always been socially and politically conscious, but I wasn’t the person out on the street protesting.

Why did you make the decision to fight for justice in North Carolina?

When I was about 2, my family moved up to Maryland. I grew up in Columbia, Maryland. I would spend all of my summers in Charlotte, North Carolina, where I live now. That’s where my grandmother is.

My grandmother would come stay with us during the school year and then I would come stay with her during the summer. Then my dad’s family is from eastern North Carolina, so the Carolinas have always been kind of like home. In a way, it’s kind of like my family home. It really wasn’t until I got back in the Raleigh-Durham area and Moral Monday was going on and I kind of connected with the folks there and I was like, ‘Yeah, I can’t go back to work now, this is too crazy.’

What has been the hardest part of your journey?

I think it’s always finding the balance. I would say, you know, in 2013 when I’m walking to the protest and I was like, ‘I can’t go back to anything, I’ve got to stay in the street.’ And I pretty much did, for like the next two years. Just protesting. I went up to Ohio when John Crawford was killed. I marched with the Ohio Student Association. I went down to Florida. We were just out protesting, just trying to raise this awareness around what was happening.

I was getting to a point where I’m exhausted. It’s traumatic. … When you ask me what has been the greatest challenge or struggle, I think it has been finding out how to sustain in this work. … How do we continue to support ourselves and do this important work? How do we balance life, and all these other things, because we’re out here fighting for our lives and there really is nothing that’s more important. But I know I reached a point where I was, like, you know, I have to live too.

Living is also resistance. If I’m out here killing myself, that’s not, at a certain point I’m no longer resisting. I have to thrive at the same time.

How would you describe your personal feelings after seeing what happened in Charlottesville?

The first word that’s coming to my mind is revelation. But I don’t know if that’s the right word. I’m trying to think of a word that is kind of revealing, because I feel like what happened with Charlottesville was, like, it was all there. All of that was there. But, it was kind of like Charlottesville was the moment that it could no longer be denied. … We’ve known for a while, we’ve known since 2008, at least. Because as soon as Obama was elected, you had a surge in white supremacist groups.

White supremacist groups have been out here organizing. They have been out here planning and connecting. And in a lot of ways folks are looking away.

So, when I think about Charlottesville, to me it was kind of ‘blatant.’ It was like that’s when America could no longer look away from what had been going on, cause here you had all of these white supremacist groups from around the nation organizing and converging on this city over this monument. And, the same way people kept saying, ‘Well, you know, does the monument really represent this, does the Confederate flag really represent that?’ People were really trying to still be kind of wishy-washy about it and it was like Charlottesville was the moment that they could no longer deny what had already been there. It’s not that Charlottesville was new. It’s that Charlottesville made plain what was already there.

How do you see your work in social justice?

The way I look at the work is two ways. One, I think we have system-facing work. There’s work where we are trying to dismantle a racist system. We have a system of white supremacy, and that’s one of the main things I speak about all the time is trying to get people to understand. Racism is not just prejudice. It’s not just, ‘I don’t like somebody because of the color of their skin.’ It’s a system that was designed. It’s an economy. It’s a social caste system that is built based upon, not just the color of a person’s skin, but African ancestry. It is built on the subjugation of people who are descended from Africans. So, I think there is system-facing work and then there is community-facing work. And I try to get people to see both ends. Because I think sometimes we think it’s either-or. Either we’re out here fighting white supremacy or we are doing work in the community. We’re trying to come out of 500 years of slavery.

My family was enslaved in South Carolina and North Carolina. So, I know the personal story of my family trying to come out of slavery. But as a people … that’s the work that we’re trying to do. It’s about economic freedom, it’s about mental freedom. It’s about having agency over ourselves. It’s about how do we break free of oppressive dynamics that we have internalized from the people who have oppressed us. … Sometimes I’m speaking to the system and then sometimes I’m just talking to my people.

Daily Dose: 8/22/17 BuzzFeed publishes more on R. Kelly

Another day, another R. Kelly story. Longtime journalist and Kelly chronicler Jim DeRogatis, after last month’s bombshell story for BuzzFeed, is back with more explosive reporting on the Grammy Award-winning singer and his sexual exploits with underage girls. In a story published late Monday night, once again on BuzzFeed, DeRogatis spoke with a woman who claims she started a sexual relationship with Kelly when she was 16 and said she suffered mental and physical abuse from him for nearly two years. Despite all that has been reported about the singer since the early 2000s, the most disturbing accusation to date may be that Kelly met the woman, Chicago native Jerhonda Pace, at the Cook County Circuit Court while the former was on trial in 2008 for making child pornography. Pace was 15 at the time.

The first white NFL player took a knee during the playing of the national anthem. After public displays of support — but no outright protests — by white players Chris Long, Justin Britt and Derek Carr, Cleveland Browns tight end Seth DeValve joined 11 of his teammates in taking a “knee in prayer” before Monday’s game against the New York Giants. With that gesture, DeValve became the first white player to join a movement begun last season by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (who retweeted a message of support for the Browns players). There are two interesting wrinkles here, as well. First, Browns coach Hue Jackson said just last week that he hoped his players wouldn’t protest the anthem; also, DeValve is married to an African-American woman, one prominently displayed on his personal social media accounts. He added that he wanted to take part in the kneeling because “I myself will be raising children that don’t look like me.”

America is beefing up its war in Afghanistan. President Donald Trump, in a prime-time address to the nation Monday, said the U.S. military will deploy more troops to that country, extending the 16-year-old conflict in the region, the longest in U.S. history. This is a stark departure from Trump’s previous views on Afghanistan, which included questioning when the U.S. would “stop wasting money on rebuilding Afghanistan” in 2011 as well as multiple pleas between 2012-14 to get out of the conflict altogether. During the Republican primaries two years ago, he flip-flopped on whether the invasion was a “terrible mistake” or not. To be fair, Trump acknowledged his past conflicting statements, but he also refused to announce a number of troops to be deployed and found a way to blame former President Barack Obama, despite offering a strategy similar to his predecessor’s.

Houston Rockets guard James Harden will donate $100,000 to Texas Southern University. The NBA MVP runner-up will designate the funds for students at the historically black university who are in financial need. TSU president Dr. Austin Lane told Fox 26 Houston that the funds will serve students “from what I consider to be one of the lowest socioeconomic backgrounds in the city, if not the state or the country.” Harden follows in the footsteps of Hall of Famer Charles Barkley, who donated $1 million each to Alabama A&M University and Clark Atlanta University, both HBCUs, last November.


Things that make you think …

  1. Speaking of Trump, the commander in chief once implied that Kaepernick should leave the country instead of protesting the national anthem and took credit for the quarterback not having a job. After Monday’s Afghanistan announcement, what’s more harmful to the troops: not standing for (an arguably racist) song or sending more soldiers into a conflict that has already claimed more than 2,200 lives?
  2. At least 25 Confederate monuments across the country have been removed since Heather Heyer was killed 10 days ago during a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Like the aftermath of the murders of nine parishioners in Charleston, South Carolina, two years ago, it took the death of a U.S. citizen for state and local governments to finally remove relics of the Confederacy.

South Carolina church shooting survivors support filmmaker’s new project exploring similar experience La Trycee Fowler is bringing to light what happens to survivors after tragedy

Two years ago, Dylann Roof opened fire at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, killing the pastor, Clementa Pinckney, and eight members during an open Bible study.

The aftermath for the family members has been an overwhelming and difficult journey. Like many tragedies, life goes on for the rest of the world, but it brings an entirely new meaning to life for those affected. One independent filmmaker is depicting a similar tragedy in her new project, Broken, and it has the support of family members of the South Carolina shooting victims.

La Trycee Fowler, writes, produces and stars in the film. According to a press release, Broken follows the lives of two children in a small Southern Mississippi town who witness a massacre at their church, leaving one of them orphaned. The film tells a visually captivating story of how they are coping with the tragedy 10 years later and what happens after an unexpected run-in with the murderer. Ray, once a happy, playful child, has become bitter and angry with the world. Nori has vivid recurring nightmares and physically finds herself frozen in terror after awakening from them. As the sole survivors from that day, they only have each other. A fateful face-to-face encounter with one of the murderers causes all involved to remain “Broken.”

“I wrote this film because I wondered what effects something like this would have on society,” Fowler said. “How does such a hate-filled, senseless act affect the lives of those left behind? My goal is to use the film to start a dialogue about hate as a cancer in our society, in the hopes of people realizing that our actions cause a ripple effect not only in others’ lives, but in our own lives as well.”

The family of Ethel Lance, a victim of the AME shooting, said the “film should be introduced at the high school level as a teaching tool to think before you act.”

Bethane Middleton-Brown, whose sister, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, was killed in the shooting, said, “I don’t want the world to ever forget the Emanuel 9. … There are a lot of broken hearts that need to be healed, a lot of stories that need to be told. … I want mine to encourage people to love, and love monetarily by giving, because that’s what it’s going to take to help others.”

Fowler has started a HatchFund campaign to raise money for the film set to begin production on Aug. 31 in Virginia. The Dale City, Virginia, native is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a concentration in pre-medicine. She relocated to Hollywood, California, shortly after graduation to pursue a film career. She created, directed and produced a web series, Hope, that was an Official Selection for the 2012 Los Angeles Web SeriesFestival and won Outstanding Ensemble Cast and Outstanding Drama.

In wake of the hate crimes in Maryland and Oregon, self-protection becomes a priority Highly publicized, race-motivated crimes are forcing black America to think about legal carry … or not

Should we bring a gun?

It’s not exactly the question you think would come to mind while planning a leisurely getaway. But as my husband and I packed for a long weekend of culture, Southern cuisine and a well-deserved rest, it was one we repeatedly and seriously asked ourselves.

We were headed to the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, South Carolina, where the heat and history can be oppressive. It’s a city that sometimes feels like a foreign country, but it’s as all-American as it gets. You can stand where men, women and children were shackled, poked, prodded, bought and sold — you can feel their ghosts. Some 40 percent of the enslaved in the 13 colonies during the trans-Atlantic slave trade came through the city. And yet, here we are, a black woman and white man, mixing and mingling and applauding with audiences and performers of all races at what’s become a major tourist draw.

In Charleston, the past is never past, as unapologetic racist Dylann Roof proved when in 2015 he chose historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, known as Mother Emanuel, a spiritual and civil rights bulwark, as the site of a hate-filled killing spree, murdering nine parishioners after praying with them for the better part of an hour. In North Charleston, unarmed African-American Walter Scott was shot by a police officer in the back; it was considered imperfect justice when Scott’s killer, Michael Slager, pleaded guilty to a federal civil rights charge after a state jury could not agree on a verdict despite video evidence.

Charleston has its special history. But is it all that different from the rest of America?


In New Orleans, the decision to remove and move monuments to the Confederacy, some erected long after the Civil War’s end, is debated and resisted.

Portland, Oregon, has its own Western brand of exclusionary racism baked in the soil, exemplified by Oregon’s policy barring blacks from living there when the state entered the union in 1859 and the legacy of those actions since then. In Portland, a man has been charged in the murder of two white men and the attempted murder of a third when the three came to the aid of two African-American women, one wearing a hijab, being harangued and harassed on public transportation last month. The accused attacker was known for expressing white supremacist views at rallies and on social media.

In Maryland, my home state, an empty chair took the place of 23-year-old Richard Collins III, a recently commissioned U.S. Army second lieutenant, at his Bowie State University graduation; his life was ended as he waited for his ride at a University of Maryland bus stop. A 22-year-old white man, who was a member of a Facebook group called “Alt-Reich,” has been charged in the stabbing; authorities are investigating whether it was a hate crime.

When crowds in Charlottesville, Virginia, protesting a City Council vote to remove a park statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee marched, shouted and carried flaming torches, all that was missing was a burning cross.

There is aggression in words as well, and no one is immune. So Cleveland Cavalier great LeBron James was not that surprised when a racist slur was spray-painted on the gate of his Los Angeles home.

“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you,” the saying goes.

America’s focus has turned to the danger from without, from foreign terrorism and the bad actors entering the country with mayhem in mind. Those are the stories making the headlines, though in truth, domestic terrorism is the threat many people of color fear the most.

The Southern Poverty Law Center tracks attacks by extremists and domestic terrorism and threats by hate groups, which saw an increase in the years of the Obama presidency and continue to rise.

So it made sense for my husband and me to investigate the South Carolina gun laws. The state’s “your home is your castle” Castle Doctrine extends to vehicles and workplaces, meaning our registered piece could indeed travel with us on a journey we hoped would be routine but feared could escalate in an instant.

Laws for self-protection and the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms are tricky and possibly dangerous for African-Americans, as those rights once applied only to whites — and some would say they still do. A registration did not stop legal gun owner Philando Castile from being killed in Minnesota in July 2016 by a panicked police officer, who was found not guilty of any crime this past week despite shooting into a car with a 4-year-old girl as a passenger.

Many, however, have decided taking that chance is worth it, and it has been reported that gun ownership among African-Americans is increasing.

In Charleston, in between programs of opera, dancing and jazz, we made the pilgrimage to Mother Emanuel, quiet and protected. It sits on Calhoun Street, which honors South Carolinian John C. Calhoun, a defender of slavery as a “positive good.”

On these streets, our marriage would have been a crime 50 years ago, before the Loving case removed the legal barriers. In 1998, when South Carolina threw out its unenforceable state ban, 38 percent of voters wanted to keep the pre-Loving status quo.

The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) is planning a memorial to peace and justice in Montgomery, Alabama, acknowledging the lynching and legally sanctioned racial terror that traumatized citizens and left a legacy. “Our goal isn’t to be divisive,” Bryan Stevenson, the director of the EJI told The New York Times. “Our goal is just to get people to confront the truth of our past with some more courage.” The museum “From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration” would be one of many memorials.

Are these reminders needed? Last month, tourists visiting the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington found a noose in an exhibition on segregation. In an email to staff, museum director Lonnie Bunch said, “Today’s incident is a painful reminder of the challenges that African-Americans continue to face.”

Will America face this enemy within?

As for our final decision on that gun, we decided not to carry after all. It would have been legal, but it may not have been wise. We did, however, pack a big honkin’ knife.

A state-of-the-art African-American museum is coming to Charleston, South Carolina The $75 million project will include a resource center for African-American genealogy

There are many unique ways to tell the story of the United States’ rich, cultural African-American history. From the first African slaves to step onto American soil to the complex yet resplendent history of African-Americans today, there are still so many stories that have yet to be told.

It’s part of the reason that businessman Michael Boulware Moore, the great-great-grandson of Robert Smalls, an enslaved African-American who escaped to freedom by commandeering a Confederate supply ship, is hoping to help continue to educate the public by spearheading a project that will bring a $75 million African-American museum to Charleston, South Carolina.

“I’ve got a real deep connection to Charleston, to African-American history, to the project, and so I decided to come on and help lead the museum and help raise the money that we need to break ground and to get it built so it can make the greatest impact it can make,” Moore said.

The International African American Museum, slated to open in late 2020, will feature several exhibits that will walk visitors through West Africa in the 17th century and end with the formation of new African-American communities in the 21st century, according to the website. Inside, exhibits will include digital wall backdrops, large-scale film, imagery and life-sized interactive contemporary figures for visitors to engage.

The museum will also focus on the full scope of African-American history, with an emphasis on South Carolina’s role in colonial American history.

Between 1783 and 1808, approximately 100,000 slaves arriving from across West Africa were transported through Gadsden’s Wharf and other South Carolina ports and sold to the 13 colonies, according to an article in The New York Times. Nearly half of enslaved Africans brought to America came through Charleston, and nearly 80 percent of African-Americans can potentially trace an ancestor who arrived in the city.

“Building the museum in Charleston is that one spot where we can all pilgrimage to, to pay homage to our ancestors, pay respects to the sacrifices that they made and contemplate our own lives based on that context,” Moore said. “It was a place where so much economic vibrancy and growth and innovation came from.”

Moore became the chief executive officer of the International African American Museum in February 2016 after being invited to join the museum’s board by former Charleston mayor Joseph Riley. At the time, the board was looking for executive leadership to help move the project along. Having spent more than two decades as an advertising executive leading major marketing campaigns for brands such as Coca-Cola and Kraft, Moore was a perfect fit for the job.

“On one hand, I’ve been this marketer consulting, working and running companies,” Moore said. “On the other, there’s a side of me that’s been focused on social justice, serving others and African-American history. This is the first opportunity in my life where I’ve been able to leverage all of me in service to a project. It’s a very special opportunity. It’s one that I take really, really seriously because of the impact it potentially can have, and I couldn’t be more thrilled about the team we have around us and what we’re doing.”

There are several features Moore and developers plan to incorporate to enhance the museum experience, including a free smartphone app and beacons in each exhibit that will allow visitors to receive the exhibit’s content through video, text and audio right to their phones.

Moore and his team are also negotiating with officials in Sierra Leone to bring artifacts from the West African nation’s old slave fort, Bunce Island, to the museum.

“We’ve discussed bringing a couple of stones that were at the end of a jetty at Bunce Island,” Moore said. “They used to aggregate the captives there, march them down this stone jetty and onto slave ships. The last two stones, we’re talking about retrieving those, bringing them here and using them as a centerpiece of a memorial for the African ancestors.”

One of the most important aspects of the museum will be its Center for Family History, which, according to Moore, is set to become the leading resource center for African-American genealogy in the country. Partnering with DNA firms, genealogy readings will be able to tell visitors specifically where their African ancestry originated on the continent.

“Someone will walk in like most African-Americans and not know a whole lot about their long-term family history,” Moore said. “Most African-Americans can go back maybe to a great-grandparent. They’ll be able to walk out with a full account of their family history back to the first African who came here. It’s really going to be a transformative experience.”

Although several African-American museums exist in the United States, Moore hopes visitors will come to Charleston to pay homage to those who came before them and leave the invaluable experience with a deeper sense of their identity.

“Because this museum is on a spot where almost all African-Americans have a relative, there will be a real connection to the space and to the beginning of our American experience,” Moore said. “What we hope to try to create in this museum is a place where all African-Americans, wherever you are in the country or hemisphere, will want to bring your family here. It’s a place where your ancestors came and a place we can finally go to pay homage to their experiences and sacrifices, and reconnect with them.”