National News

Raleigh woman removes Confederate flag in front of SC statehouse

Posted June 27, 2015 7:14 a.m. EDT
Updated June 27, 2015 7:21 p.m. EDT

— A 30-year-old woman from Raleigh has been charged after she removed the Confederate battle flag that flies in front of the South Carolina Statehouse in Columbia, S.C.

Brittany Ann Byuarim Newsome was about halfway up the more than 30-foot steel flagpole just after dawn Saturday when State Capitol police told her to come down.

Instead, Newsome, who was wearing climbing gear, continued up and removed the flag before returning to the ground. Video posted on YouTube showed Newsome's climb.

Newsome is charged with defacing state property. James Ian Tyson, 30, of Charlotte, was also arrested for entering the wrought-iron fence surrounding the flag. The charge is a misdemeanor that carries a fine of up to $5,000 and a prison term of up to three years or both.

A replacement flag was returned to the flagpole about an hour after Newsome's climb, officials said.

Newsome posted bond Saturday afternoon, her attorney Todd Rutherford told WRAL News. About the time of her arrest, Newsome released an email statement to the media.

"We removed the flag today because we can't wait any longer. We can't continue like this another day," it said. "It's time for a new chapter where we are sincere about dismantling white supremacy and building toward true racial justice and equality."

Authorities said Newsome was from Raleigh. However, Mervyn Marcano, a spokesman for the small group of activists who worked together to take down the flag, said she had recently moved to Charlotte.

Newsome, who took part in the "Moral Monday" movement in Raleigh in 2013, was charged with second-degree trespassing and violating legislative building rules during a rally at the North Carolina General Assembly on July 24, 2013. Those charges were later dismissed.

North Carolina NAACP President William Barber II said the group stands "in solidarity" with Newsome.

"Our sister from North Carolina, Bree Newsome, is a committed, trained, non-violent messenger of the truth. She stands in a long tradition," he said in a statement. "The Hebrew midwives who stood up to Pharoah; Jeremiah who put on an iron yoke in defiance of a king and unfit practices; Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and more recently hundreds of protesters in Moral Monday who were all considered, at first, criminals for their acts of conscience."

Tamika Lewis, another member of the group, said taking down the flag "was done because we were tired of waiting for the judicial system to make the decision they have been prolonging for a very long time."

Later Saturday, about 50 people who support keeping the flag held a rally at the statehouse. Many were waving Confederate flags as they shouted "Heritage Not Hate!"

"This is not a flag of hate. It's a flag of heritage, and we have a right to our heritage," said Leland Browder of Greenville. "And, you know, I'm from the South and proud of the South and, you know, proud of this flag."

Supporters also said the voters should decide the fate of the flag and shouted: "Let the People Vote."

Calls for removing the flag have been renewed since nine black churchgoers were killed in what police characterized as a racist attack at a Charleston, South Carolina church last week.

South Carolina lawmakers took the initial steps last Tuesday toward removing the Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse grounds by agreeing to allow discussion of the matter during the legislative session.