The young woman arrested in 2015 for taking down the Statehouse's Confederate battle flag has been invited to speak at the College of Charleston next week about activism and social justice at an event titled "Tearing Hatred from the Sky."
But opposition to the event from the South Carolina Secessionist Party underscores the controversy that lingers almost two years after the the state Legislature voted to furl the flag for good.
Dressed in climbing gear and a helmet, Bree Newsome shimmied up a pole on the S.C. Statehouse grounds and pulled down the Confederate battle flag just as the sun was rising on June 26, 2015.
It had been 10 days since Dylann Roof walked into a Bible study at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston and gunned down nine black worshippers. When Roof's racist manifesto surfaced online, where he had posted photos of himself holding Confederate flags, it reignited an emotional, decades-long debate about whether the flag should fly at the Statehouse.
Newsome, an activist from Charlotte, said in a statement with Black Lives Matter that she couldn't wait any longer for lawmakers to remove the flag that had been prominently displayed at the state's Capitol for 54 years. She was arrested that day and charged with defacing a monument. The flag was swiftly returned to its post, and social media lit up with support for Newsome, spawning the trending hashtag #FreeBree on Twitter.
In a historic move a month later, the Legislature voted to bring down the flag, and it was furled at a ceremony the next day. Roof has since been convicted of 33 federal offenses stemming from the mass shooting and sentenced to death.
Newsome is scheduled to speak at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Sottile Theater about her flag protest and other demonstrations she's participated in.
James Bessenger, chairman of the state Secessionist Party, wrote Thursday to College of Charleston President Glenn McConnell and the Multicultural Student Programs department, which is hosting the event. He urged the college to "reconsider the decision to invite someone who so clearly and unapologetically violated our State's laws and attacked a public monument."
He wrote Newsome's visit to the college was "a direct insult" to "millions of proud Southerners," and that her presence would encourage others to deface Confederate monuments.
In an email, Bessenger said he has not received a reply from McConnell or the Office of Multicultural Student Programs.
If Newsome speaks at the college, Bessenger said the group will relocate its weekly Confederate flag-flying rally from the Battery to the college campus. Since September 2015, a member of the party has waved the flag at White Point Garden every weekend for several hours.
Angel Parson, assistant director of student life at the college, said she didn't have much of a response to those who saw Newsome's visit as controversial, except that "they are entitled to their opinion."
She said while the event is open to the public, it is primarily for students.
"A lot of our students are already part of different civic engagement projects, and our hope is that they increase their awareness of social justice issues and how to share their voice and have a voice on this campus and in this community once they graduate," she said.
The College of Charleston Board of Trustees and McConnell supported the removal of the Confederate flag from the Capitol, but the college's president, a former state senator, also has been criticized for his past defense of Confederate heritage.
College of Charleston students repeatedly protested the board's decision to hire McConnell to head the school in 2014, citing his participation in Civil War re-enactments, as well as his lead role as a state senator in the 2000 legislative compromise to move the Confederate flag from atop the Statehouse dome to a monument on the grounds.