“Oh freedom, oh freedom, oh freedom over me,” sang members of the Florida A&M University alumni Legacy Choir. “And before I’ll be a slave, I’ll be buried in my grave, and go home to my Lord and be free.”
Strong words to say the least, but for all those who stayed around for the remainder of the 8th annual Spring Literary Forum held in Lee Hall, those words rang very true to the message being given.
That message: African-Americans, as a community, have to gain understanding and fight against racial injustices.
The keynote speaker for forum was Bree Newsome. Newsome achieved national fame on June 27, 2015 for scaling a 30-foot pole at the South Carolina State House and taking down a Confederate Battle Flag that was being proudly displayed.
Although admittedly afraid and having “no real climbing experience,” her belief was that taking down that flag was absolutely necessary.
Even after being threatened that she would be tased by local law enforcement while clinging onto the metal pole, which undoubtedly would have electrocuted her, Newsome kept on climbing until that flag was pulled down.
The fame that eventually followed her decision was not apart of her plan. Neither was being arrested.
“I had no intentions of getting arrested again at the time. I was really focused on organizing the community. But I determined an act to take down the flag was a cause for which I would definitely risk getting arrested again,” Newsome said.
A mere 10 days after Dylann Roof, a young white male, brutally murdered nine innocent African-Americans at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.
Through photographs, it had been revealed that Roof had an affinity for the Confederate Flag, further escalating the racist notion associated with it.
Before grabbing the microphone to give a resounding speech that lasted nearly 30 minutes, Newsome, graduate of New York University’s well-respected Tisch School of the Arts, showed her 2012 BET Best Short Film winner “Wake,” much to the delight of those in attendance.
It was her speech though, that served as the highlight of the event.
Flanked by a PowerPoint presentation displaying many of the injustices posed amongst African-Americans throughout history, Newsome spoke uninterrupted.
Serving as an underlying backbone for her activism, Newsome explained instances where her grandmother, as a young child, witnessed her neighbor being dragged out of his home into the streets and beat viciously for simply providing treatment to a white woman. She also shared her great uncle was hanged in Greensboro, N.C. so that a white man could take his son’s newspaper stand.
Summer Marchand, second-year FAMU pharmacy student from Los Angeles, Calif. found great appreciation in the statements delivered by Newsome. With majority of her family being from California, Marchand confessed that tales of these hideous actions were not prevalent in or around her household.
“My family did not really experience these things, so I didn’t receive this kind of knowledge often,” Marchand said. “I commend her for having the courage to stand up for what she knew was right even in an area like South Carolina.”
As Newsome was wrapping up her presentation, a picture of William T. Thompson, the creator of the Confederate Flag, displayed on-screen with an accompanying description of what his purpose was for creating that flag.
That description read, in part, the Confederate Flag was created to “maintain the Heaven-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race.”
In Newsome’s mind, waving that flag on the State House grounds was advertising that very message. She would not stand for that one second longer.
“I felt strongly how intolerable it was for that flag to fly another day,” Newsome said.
Her message was meant to mean much more than just her climbing a pole to take a flag down. She pushed for empowerment and knowledge in her directive.
“Of course I wasn’t born with this consciousness,” Newsome said. “The process of going from unconscious to conscious is a choice that an individual must make.”
A choice that she is admittedly proud to have made.