Artist and activist
Bree Newsome is an artist who drew national attention in 2015 when she climbed the flagpole in front of the South Carolina Capitol building and lowered the Confederate battle flag. The flag was originally raised in 1961 as a 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 flag. Bree’s act of defiance against a symbol of hate has been memorialized in photographs and artwork and has become a symbol of resistance and the empowerment of women.
Activism is one of a trio of pursuits that have driven her since a young age when she showed talent as both a musician and a writer, particularly a writer of plays and films.
Her roots as an artist and activist were planted early. Her father, who has served as the dean of the Howard University School of Divinity and the president of both Shaw University and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, is a nationally-recognized scholar of African American religious history and how it has impacted social justice movements. Her mother spent her career as an educator addressing the achievement gap and disparities of education. Bree’s interest in the arts was fostered early in her life, and she showed promise even then. At the age of seven, she learned to play the piano and wrote her first piece of music. Two years later, she wrote her first play. At the age of 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.
In 2011, while an artist in residence at Saatchi and Saatchi in New York, she marched with Occupy Wall Street. Much of her activism has focused upon incidents of young black people being unjustly killed and issues related to structural racism. She travelled with a group of youth activists from North Carolina to Florida during the Dream Defenders’ occupation of the statehouse as a protest against the killing of Trayvon Martin. She also participated in an 11-mile march 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.
From 2013-2015, she served as the Western Field Organizer for Ignite NC, and she is one of the founders of The Tribe, a grassroots organizing collective. The Tribe was created in the aftermath of the 2014 uprising in Ferguson to address similar issues of structural racism and police violence confronting the community of Charlotte, North Carolina.
During the 2016 Charlotte uprising, Bree helped organize protests and community meetings. She continues to organize at the grassroots level in Charlotte, focusing on developing models for sustainable community organization.
Her dedication to her community work has not lessened her interest in either film or music. She often interweaves the two. In 2016 she wrote, produced, and directed the performance piece “Rise Up and Go” as part of The Monticello Summit, a four-day public summit on the legacy of slavery and freedom in America held at the site of Thomas Jefferson’s former plantation. The celebration was a collaboration among the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the University of Virginia.