“The Civil War was about slavery, not state’s rights. The flag is undeniably a symbol for racism. How dare they fly the flag blocks from Mother Emmanuel, like Dylan Roof?” – Lavinia Rizvi, freshman at the College.
On Wednesday, Feb. 22, 7 p.m. Bree Newsome visited campus and spoke at “Tearing Hatred From the Sky,” an event hosted by Offices of Student Life and Multicultural Student Programs and Services. Newsome is known for her political activism, particularly when she brought down the Confederate flag from the State House 10 days after the Mother Emmanuel massacre.
The invitation was extended stating that “Bree’s intention was to create a new image, a new symbol and a new consciousness of the power inherent in direct action!”
However, when Newsome’s event at the Sottile Theatre was announced, not all were excited – particularly those of the South Carolina Secessionist Party who support the Confederate flag and disagree with Newsome’s actions.
As expected, many students on campus discovered the SCSP’s plans and decided to form a counter-protest, raising LGBT flags against the Confederate flags in Marion Square on Feb.19 and voicing their disgust in what they believe the Confederate flag stands for and its history involving slavery.
After the grand flagging protest and its counter-protest, tensions rose, culminating with the protest on Wednesday, which was more aggressive.
Newsome arrived to begin the discussion at 7 p.m., but protesters and counter-protesters had already been separated and begun chanting. James Bessenger, chairman of the SCSP was unresponsive and quietly holding a Confederate flag on George Street in front of the George Street Apartments as the crowd of counter-protesters began to grow. When asked why he was protesting, he simply responded “I’m here because I have an issue with the state allowing someone to come in and vandalize a part of our history.” Bessenger was shortly after joined by a student, and later on by another and unnamed protester in a yellow hoodie. Bessenger stated that the SCSP did not associate with the unnamed protester and did not hold the same values.
Early on in the evening, Black Lives Matter leader Muhiyidin Moye jumped the barricade on live television in an attempt to take the confederate flag from Bessenger, but was only able to break the flag pole. Moye was promptly arrested after complying with law enforcement. Moye appeared in court on Friday and was released from custody on his own recognizance.
Those who came to support Newsome vastly outnumbered the SCSP protesters, with students and members of the community crowding into one block between a brick wall and a barricade set up on the one side of the street. The crowd was of all ages, races, religion, sexualities and genders, each to support not only their cause but those who have been oppressed.
A taunt of “All Lives Matter” was met with a roar of “Black Lives Matter.” The phrase “Blue Lives Matters” was met with “No Trump, No KKK, No fascist USA.” Each individual had their personal reason for being there – Luna, a student at the College, stated that they were there for “racial justice, to show that showing a racist symbol downtown is not ok.” Ruby Gonzales, another student, simply replied with “I hate racism, ignorance and fascism.” Student Kameron Midkiff explained that “People are equal despite race, gender, and sexuality and our differences should not be shunned.”
Around 8:30, as the event began wrapping up, Bessenger left with the flag and two of the three other protesters. Counter-protesters responded with the loudest cheer of the night. The unnamed protester remained for another 15 minutes before being asked to leave by local law enforcement.
While the protest was initially against Newsome’s visit, the counter-protesters saw this event as being more than about one woman. As summed up by a statement released by the True Southern Resistance from Southerners on New Ground:
“As people who have always been fighting on the margins we know that: the old South will fail, because our people have fought against it and we honor them by rising up. The Confederacy lost and we refuse to go back. We declare a South where Black people queer people, trans people have access to non-gentrifying communities, spaces and liberation. This is nothing new, we have always been organizing against white supremacy – we have had many wins and this flag is continued effort of the Old South and white supremacy will rise again – it will not. The true criminals and threat to our community is not Bree Newsome, but those who support white nationalism. This is a call to action to continue the path Bree started in breaking away from South Carolina’s racist, antebellum history.”