KINGSTON, R.I. — Jan. 25, 2021 — Bree Newsome, the artist who drew national attention in 2015 when she climbed the flagpole in front of the South Carolina Capitol building and removed a Confederate battle flag, will be the speaker for the University of Rhode Island’s Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration on Feb. 2.
The online presentation, from 7 to 8:30 p.m., is free and open to URI students, staff, faculty, and alumni.
The flag was originally raised in 1961 as a racist statement of opposition to the Civil Rights Movement and lunch counter sit-ins occurring at the time. The massacre of nine black parishioners by a white supremacist at Emanuel AME Zion Church in Charleston reignited controversy over South Carolina’s continued endorsement of a hate symbol. Newsome’s act of defiance against the culture of white supremacy has been captured in photographs, artwork and film and has become a symbol of resistance and the empowerment of women.
According to her website, her roots as an artist and activist were planted early. Her father served as dean of the Howard University School of Divinity, and the president of both Shaw University and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. Her mother spent her career as an educator addressing the achievement gap and disparities in education.
In 2011, while an artist in residence at Saatchi & Saatchi, a communications and advertising agency, in New York, Bree Newsome marched with Occupy Wall Street. In 2013, she was briefly involved with the Moral Monday movement organized by Rev. William Barber, III and the North Carolina state chapter of the NAACP. Newsome volunteered to be arrested as part of a sit-in at the North Carolina State House protesting legislation designed to disenfranchise Black voters. The legislation was later overturned by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which found that North Carolina had “target[ed] African Americans with almost surgical precision.”
Much of Newsome’s activism has focused upon incidents of young black people being unjustly killed and issues related to structural racism. She traveled with a group of youth activists from North Carolina to Florida during the Dream Defenders’ occupation of the statehouse in 2013 as a protest against the killing of Trayvon Martin. She also participated in an 11-mile march in 2014 from the Beavercreek, Ohio Wal-Mart where John Crawford was killed by police to the courthouse in Xenia, Ohio, demanding release of the footage showing the killing.
Newsome’s interest in the arts was fostered early in her life, and she showed promise even then. At age 7, she learned to play the piano, and wrote her first piece of music. Two years later, she wrote her first play. At 18, Bree won a $40,000 scholarship from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences as part of a short film competition.
She studied film at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. Her senior year short film, “Wake” won numerous accolades and was a finalist for the prestigious Wasserman Award, whose past recipients include Spike Lee.
MUSIC, Brothers On a New Direction (BOND); the Black Student Union (BSU), Powerful Independent Notoriously Knowledgeable Women (P.I.N.K), and Uhuru Sasa planned the event in collaboration with the Multicultural Students Services Center.