An activist and youth organizer named Bree Newsome climbed the flagpole in front of the South Carolina capitol in Columbia early Saturday morning and pulled down the Confederate flag still flying on Statehouse grounds, telling media, "we can't wait any longer."
Newsome, 30, of Charlotte, was about halfway up the 30-foot flagpole when police demanded she climb back down, but she kept going until she was able to remove the flag from its perch. Upon returning to the ground, Newsome was arrested along with another activist, James Ian Dyson, and taken to the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center on misdemeanor charges of defacing a monument on state capitol grounds. News of their action spread quickly under the hashtag #FreeBree, sparking a petition to remove the flag and drop the charges against Newsome.
"We removed the flag today because we can't wait any longer," Newsome said in a written statement on Saturday. "We can't continue like this another day. It's time for a new chapter where we are sincere about dismantling white supremacy and building toward true racial justice and equality."
After Newsome's arrest, officials ordered the banner to be raised again around 8:30am—just in time for a pro-flag rally.
The action came just hours before funeral services continued for the third day for the victims of an attack on Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in which a gunman shot dead nine black men and women. Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old white supremacist, has been charged in the murders. The attack is being investigated as a hate crime and has sparked a renewed demand by activists to take down the Confederate flags flying on capitol grounds in numerous states.
"We could not sit by and watch the victims of the Charleston Massacre be laid to rest while the inspiration for their deaths continue to fly above their caskets," the group which organized the action said in a statement.
"The flag represents white supremacy," another activist, 25-year-old Tamika Lewis, told theGuardian on Saturday. "The image alone is used to ignite fear and intimidation, especially among people of color and minorities. This was a long time coming."
South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley this week called on the state legislature to vote in favor of removing the flag. But, as Lewis told the Guardian, "This was a Confederate symbol that ignited an individual to kill and murder innocent black people in a church, and it was still erected. The legislature was just taking too long to act morally and justly. They’re dragging their feet."