Students hear from activist who removed Confederate flag from pole

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About 300 students from eight Dallas ISD schools heard from a woman who last summer climbed a 30-foot flagpole to remove the Confederate battle flag flying on the grounds of the South Carolina State House.

Bree Newsome was the featured speaker at a youth forum in the Zan Wesley Holmes, Jr. African Heritage Lecture Series on Monday, Feb. 1, at St. Luke “Community” United Methodist Church. She talked about the history of the Confederate flag, the reasons behind her actions and the need to make a difference. She also answered questions submitted by the students.

Newsome was already an activist and accomplished filmmaker when, on June 27, 2015, she scaled the flagpole. One her way down, she said she felt victorious. She had planned to remove the flag in silence, but when police officers arrived, she wanted to let them know that her actions were part of a peaceful protest – along with others present who supported the cause.

She was arrested once back on the ground, but that was a consequence she was prepared for.

“For me, it was a deeply personal thing to take down the flag,” she said, adding that it was rewarding to see the action meant a lot to others, too.

Although the flag was returned to the top of the pole less than an hour after Newsome removed it, on July 10 a state bill permanently removed the flag from the State House grounds.

A result of her arrest was that her local activism suddenly had a larger audience, as the story spread nationally. She promotes civic education – which includes information about the voting process, and specifics about government entities – things people need to know to be good citizens.

Debate over the Confederate battle flag erupted over the past year, but Newsome said the flag has a longer history as a racist symbol. The flag was installed on top of the dome of the South Carolina State House in 1962, she said, as an affront to the civil rights movement. In 2000, the flag was moved from the dome to a pole on the grounds.

“It’s always been controversial,” she said. “This has been an issue for awhile.”

On her need to affect change, Newsome said she credits her parents. “They really raised me to be a person of conscience,” she said.

Whatever career path students choose, Newsome told them they can make a positive difference. Students can find examples nearby. “Some of the biggest change agents in our society are our teachers,” she said.

Most important is doing something. “The way it is, isn’t always the way it was,” she said. “Don’t just allow life to happen – don’t just accept things the way they are.”

Students participating were from David W. Carter High School, Justin F. Kimball High School, Lincoln High School, James Madison High School, Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy, Irma L. Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School, Billy E. Dade Middle School and Zan Weslkey Holmes, Jr. Middle School. Teachers were provided a comprehensive information packet by the district’s Social Studies Department to facilitate lessons on the Confederate flag, teaching tolerance and the historical significance of Newsome’s actions.

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