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Interviews with news makers and discussion of topics important to Southwest Michigan. Subscribe to the podcast through Apple itunes and Google. Segments of interview are heard in WestSouthwest Brief during Morning Edition and All Things Considered

'Civil Disobedience,' Flags And Change: The Bree Newsome Story

Courtesy photo

Climbing a 30-foot flagpole is not easy. But Bree Newsomedid (listen now, below).  She ascended the flagpole outside South Carolina's statehouse and lowered the Confederate flag in 2015, making headlines. Why did she do it?

"There was a moment that we were in as a nation," the film-maker-activist says today on WMUK's WestSouthwest news and public affairs show.

She says a white supremacist had just days before fatally shot nine black parishioners at a church in Charleston, S.C., including its pastor who was a state senator. 

Newsome recalls being perplexed that the U.S. and South Carolina flags could be lowered to half-staff as the clergyman's casket made its way through the streets for viewing at the statehouse, but not the Confederate one; she says, by law, it required legislative action in order to be moved.

It was then she says she knew, as a black woman who had descended from slaves, that she had to act. 

"Half of my family comes from South Carolina," says Newsome, who speaks in Grand Rapids on Wednesday. "I have ancestors who were enslaved in South Carolina. My grandmother, growing up, told me about her experiences of racism and of witnessing the Klu Klux Klan beat one of her neighbors. I have a great uncle who was lynched....I was always aware of the Confederate flag in South Carolina and what it symbolized and the history of it."

Newsome says she knew the risks of her actions, including physical harm and jail time, but felt the time had come to take her activism to a higher level.

"I really had to recognize that the rights I have today are a direct result of people willing to make that sacrifice. It was a moment that I came to."

Newsome was arrested and fined for the June 27, 2015 flagpole incident. However, less than a month later, South Carolina's then-Gov. Nikki Haley decided to permanently remove the Confederate flag. It's renewed national debate about whether to keep such symbols in place. 

Newsome is scheduled to deliver a keynote address at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 17that Grand Valley State University's Kirkhof Center. It is part of the university's MLK Day events this week.

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