An activist who pulled down the Confederate flag that once flew over South Carolina statehouse has been disinvited from speaking to high school students because she’s been arrested for civil disobedience.
Civil rights activist and public speaker Bree Newsome had been scheduled to speak this week at Asheville (North Carolina) Middle School, but school officials canceled her lecture just days ahead of the event, reported the Citizen-Times.
“I was stunned,” local activist Ellie Richard told WLOS-TV.
Principal April Dockery cited a school board policy requiring professional staff to properly screen visiting speakers, who are not allowed to advocate illegal acts — but Richard wasn’t satisfied by the explanation.
“It was a very wishy-washy conversation,” Richard said. “She did say that, well, ‘She’s been arrested,’ and I said an awful lot of activists have been arrested. Some of our greatest change makers in history have long rap sheets. So does that mean if Rosa Parks were alive and able to come to Asheville Middle School that she would be declined?”
Newsome gained fame two years ago, when she climbed a flagpole and removed the Confederate flag at South Carolina’s statehouse as lawmakers debated its removal after a white supremacist massacred nine black churchgoers in Charleston.
When she climbed back down with the flag in her hand, Newsome was arrested and charged with defacing monuments on Capitol grounds, but public outcry led to her release.
A spokesperson for Asheville public schools told the TV station that Newsome was never supposed to speak in the first place, but was offered as a possible replacement after author Margot Lee Shetterly canceled.
The district referred the newspaper to its policy on speakers advocating illegal or unconstitutional acts.
Newsome, a filmmaker whose father previously served as director of the Underground Railroad Freedom Center, has since traveled the country sharing her family’s history of slavery and civil rights activism.
“Bree brings a more in-depth analysis of what the Confederate flag stands for,” said Carmen Ramos-Kennedy, the Asheville-Buncombe County NAACP president. “She didn’t just climb up the pole to remove the flag — she knows what it means to people of color and to people of different religions.”
The school’s Facebook page has been flooded with comments asking to reverse the decision, and her representatives are expected to announce that Newsome will speak Friday at at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College at 5:30 p.m. and Saturday at the Young Men’s Institute on Sept. 30.
Both events are open to the public.
Asheville city councilman Cecil Bothwell said he suspects the school district backed out of Newsome’s lecture in fear of white supremacist backlash in the wake of racist riots in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“I am deeply saddened that the Asheville City Schools have been frightened into preventing a modern and progressive racial justice hero from speaking to our students,” Bothwell said.