Do You Know Your History? Bree Newsome’s Visit to Campus

On March 6, Bree Newsome, a black activist who removed a Confederate flag by climbing a flagpole in South Carolina on June 27, 2015, visited campus to give a lecture about Black history and activism. She presented in Bemis Great Hall to an audience of both Colorado Springs community members and Colorado College students. The Butler Center hosted the event in partnership with Colorado College Student Government Association. 

Newsome had a strong presence and extreme charisma. She started her presentation by asking the question, “Do you know your history?” Newsome emphasized that the role of history is crucial in understanding how we relate to different things today such as Confederate monuments. She emphasized the importance of historical consciousness. 

Illustration by Lee O’Dowd

Newsome also highlighted that race is a social construct and that we are all descendent from the same ancestry, Homo sapiens, who first existed in Africa. “The common journey of humanity from then until now has been about the evolution of our collective consciousness,” she explained. The way in which we understand the reality around us collectively creates the basis of human culture. 

She also mentioned that, in spite of the scientific advances proving racism is a social construct, the world in 2019 is still reflective of European colonialism and white supremacist ideologies. To know Black history is to know the history of Africa before colonization, to know the African civilizations, to know the history that is erased from the public consciousness which keeps European colonialism and white supremacist ideologies alive and well. To know those erased histories is, in one part, to defy the modern myth of the inferiority of black people. 

Newsome asserted that the process to move from unconscious to conscious is an individual choice. It is a process of inquiry that one must be willing to engage with, to understand the reality that is outside one’s conscious surroundings. In 2013, the federal government allowed Southern States to change their electoral laws. North Carolina, where Newsome lived and still lives, made all the efforts to make voting harder for black people, poor people, and students. A grandchild of former-slaves, Newsome was raised with an awareness of Black history and a sense of responsibility to serve her community. With the death of many African-American men by police, like Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, there was no time to wait for Newsome to be involved and active in her communities. 

In South Carolina, where the Confederate flag has risen high as a statement for white supremacy and power, Newsome took it on her self to learn how to climb, to plan taking down the flag, and to risk her life while doing so, all in an effort to stop to gross statements of white supremacist. The flag represents slavery and additionally serves as a symbol of Jim Crow. The flag was risen and protected. Its removal was long overdue in order to highlight to the public that South Carolina does not condone these values. We are at a time of young freedom fighters that are empowered everyday to change the system. It is time to not only change laws, but change the symbols that manage the meanings of our lives. 

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