Popular Resistance June 30th, 2015
Statement By Bree Newsome: “Now Is The TimeFor True Courage”*
RESIST! #BLACKLIVESMATTER, #FREEBREE, BLACK WOMYN, COURAGE, REVOLUTION
By Bree Newsome, www.bluenationreview.com
Now is the time for true courage
I realized that now is the time for true courage the morning after the
Charleston Massacre shook me to the core of my being. I couldn’t sleep. I
sat awake in the dead of night. All the ghosts of the past seemed to be
Not long ago, I had watched the beginning of Selma, the reenactment of the
16th Street Baptist Church bombing and had shuddered at the horrors of
But this was neither a scene from a movie nor was it the past. A white man
had just entered a black church and massacred people as they prayed. He had
assassinated a civil rights leader. This was not a page in a textbook I was
reading nor an inscription on a monument I was visiting.
This was now.
This was real.
This was—this is—still happening.
I began my activism by participating in the Moral Monday movement, fighting
to restore voting rights in North Carolina after the Supreme Court struck
down key protections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
I traveled down to Florida where the Dream Defenders were demanding justice
for Trayvon Martin, who reminded me of a modern-day Emmett Till.
I marched with the Ohio Students Association as they demanded justice for
victims of police brutality.
I watched in horror as black Americans were tear-gassed in their own
neighborhoods in Ferguson, MO. “Reminds me of the Klan,” my grandmother
said as we watched the news together. As a young black girl in South
Carolina, she had witnessed the Klan drag her neighbor from his house and
brutally beat him because he was a black physician who had treated a white
I visited with black residents of West Baltimore, MD who, under curfew, had
to present work papers to police to enter and exit their own neighborhood.
“These are my freedom papers to show the slave catchers,” my friend said
with a wry smile.
And now, in the past 6 days, I’ve seen arson attacks against 5 black
churches in the South, including in Charlotte, NC where I organize
alongside other community members striving to create greater
self-sufficiency and political empowerment in low-income neighborhoods.
For far too long, white supremacy has dominated the politics of America
resulting in the creation of racist laws and cultural practices designed to
subjugate non-whites. And the emblem of the confederacy, the stars and
bars, in all its manifestations, has long been the most recognizable banner
of this political ideology. It’s the banner of racial intimidation and fear
whose popularity experiences an uptick whenever black Americans appear to
be making gains economically and politically in this country.
It’s a reminder how, for centuries, the oppressive status quo has been
undergirded by white supremacist violence with the tacit approval of too
many political leaders.
The night of the Charleston Massacre, I had a crisis of faith. The people
who gathered for Bible study in Emmanuel AME Church that night—Cynthia
Marie Graham Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, Depayne
Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Simmons, Sharonda
Coleman-Singleton, Myra Thompson and Rev. Clementa Pinckney (rest in
peace)—were only doing what Christians are called to do when anyone knocks
on the door of the church: invite them into fellowship and worship.
The day after the massacre I was asked what the next step was and I said I
didn’t know. We’ve been here before and here we are again: black people
slain simply for being black; an attack on the black church as a place of
spiritual refuge and community organization.
I refuse to be ruled by fear. How can America be free and be ruled by fear?
How can anyone be?
So, earlier this week I gathered with a small group of concerned citizens,
both black and white, who represented various walks of life, spiritual
beliefs, gender identities and sexual orientations. Like millions of others
in America and around the world, including South Carolina Governor Nikki
Haley and President Barack Obama, we felt (and still feel) that the
confederate battle flag in South Carolina, hung in 1962 at the height of
the Civil Rights Movement, must come down. (Of course, we are not the first
to demand the flag’s removal. Civil rights groups in South Carolina and
nationwide have been calling for the flag’s removal since the moment it was
raised, and I acknowledge their efforts in working to remove the flag over
the years via the legislative process.)
We discussed it and decided to remove the flag immediately, both as an act
of civil disobedience and as a demonstration of the power people have when
we work together. Achieving this would require many roles, including
someone who must volunteer to scale the pole and remove the flag. It was
decided that this role should go to a black woman and that a white man
should be the one to help her over the fence as a sign that our alliance
transcended both racial and gender divides. We made this decision because
for us, this is not simply about a flag, but rather it is about abolishing
the spirit of hatred and oppression in all its forms.
I removed the flag not only in defiance of those who enslaved my ancestors
in the southern United States, but also in defiance of the oppression that
continues against black people globally in 2015, including the ongoing
ethnic cleansing in the Dominican Republic. I did it in solidarity with the
South African students who toppled a statue of the white supremacist,
colonialist Cecil Rhodes. I did it for all the fierce black women on the
front lines of the movement and for all the little black girls who are
watching us. I did it because I am free.
To all those who might label me an “outside agitator,” I say to you that
humanitarianism has no borders. I am a global citizen. My prayers are with
the poor, the afflicted and the oppressed everywhere in the world, as
Christ instructs. If this act of disobedience can also serve as a symbol to
other peoples’ struggles against oppression or as a symbol of victory over
fear and hate, then I know all the more that I did the right thing.
Even if there were borders to my empathy, those borders would most
certainly extend into South Carolina. Several of my African ancestors
entered this continent through the slave market in Charleston. Their unpaid
toil brought wealth to America via Carolina plantations. I am descended
from those who survived racial oppression as they built this nation: My 4th
great grandfather, who stood on an auction block in South Carolina refusing
to be sold without his wife and newborn baby; that newborn baby, my 3rd
great grandmother, enslaved for 27 years on a plantation in Rembert, SC
where she prayed daily for her children to see freedom; her husband, my 3rd
great grandfather, an enslaved plowboy on the same plantation who founded a
church on the eve of the Civil War that stands to this day; their son, my
great-great grandfather, the one they called “Free Baby” because he was
their first child born free, all in South Carolina.
You see, I know my history and my heritage. The Confederacy is neither the
only legacy of the south nor an admirable one. The southern heritage I
embrace is the legacy of a people unbowed by racial oppression. It includes
towering figures of the Civil Rights Movement like Ida B. Wells, Martin
Luther King, Jr., Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, Medgar Evers and Ella
Baker. It includes the many people who rarely make the history books but
without whom there is no movement. It includes pillars of the community
like Rev. Clementa Pinckney and Emmanuel AME Church.
The history of the South is also in many ways complex and full of
inconvenient truths. But in order to move into the future we must reckon
with the past. That’s why I commend people like Sen. Paul Thurmond for
having the courage to speak truth in this moment.
Words cannot express how deeply touched I am to see how yesterday’s action
inspired so many. The artwork, poems, music and memes are simply beautiful!
I am also deeply grateful to those who have generously donated to the
defense fund established in my name and to those who have offered to cover
my legal expenses.
As you are admiring my courage in that moment, please remember that this is
not, never has been and never should be just about one woman. This action
required collective courage just as this movement requires collective
courage. Not everyone who participated in the strategizing for this
non-violent direct action volunteered to have their names in the news so I
will respect their privacy. Nonetheless, I’m honored to be counted among
the many freedom fighters, both living and dead.
I see no greater moral cause than liberation, equality and justice for
all God’s people. What better reason to risk your own freedom than to fight
for the freedom of others? That’s the moral courage demonstrated yesterday
by James Ian Tyson who helped me across the fence and stood guard as I
climbed. History will rightly remember him alongside the many white allies
who, over the centuries, have risked their own safety in defense of black
life and in the name of racial equality.
While I remain highly critical of the nature of policing itself in the
United States, both the police and the jailhouse personnel I encountered on
Saturday were nothing short of professional in their interactions with me.
I know there was some concern from supporters on the outside that I might
be harmed while in police custody, but that was not the case.
It is important to remember that our struggle doesn’t end when the flag
comes down. The Confederacy is a southern thing, but white supremacy is
not. Our generation has taken up the banner to fight battles many thought
were won long ago. We must fight with all vigor now so that our
grandchildren aren’t still fighting these battles in another 50 years.
Black Lives Matter. This is non-negotiable.
I encourage everyone to understand the history, recognize the problems of
the present and take action to show the world that the status quo is not
acceptable. The last few days have confirmed to me that people understand
the importance of action and are ready to take such action. Whether the
topic is trending nationally or it’s an issue affecting our local
communities, those of us who are conscious must do what is right in this
moment. And we must do it without fear. New eras require new models of
leadership. This is a multi-leader movement. I believe that. I stand by
that. I am because we are. I am one of many.
This moment is a call to action for us all. All honor and praise to God.
#TakeItDown #BlackLivesMatter #FreeBree