Sometimes, indeed, a picture tells a thousand words. Or, in this case, several pictures – which add up, in my book, to sweet holy defiance in defense of human dignity. What Bree Newsome did earlier this week sprang from her formation in the biblical tradition of prophecy, God’s truth speaking defiantly to power, not only in words but in bodily actions. One news outlet describes the event this way:
Bree Newsome was tired of watching the Confederate battle flag fly on the grounds of the South Carolina statehouse. So on Saturday morning, the 30-year-old African American activist and singer-songwriter from North Carolina put on a harness, climbed 30 feet, and took down the flag herself. She was arrested and charged with defacing a state monument, while the flag was promptly returned to its place atop the pole. But at the end of a week in which the Confederate flag was removed for good from the Alabama statehouse, banned by many retailers, and condemned by politicians in Mississippi and South Carolina, the symbolism of Newsome’s ascent was hard to miss.
In her own words, from atop the flagpole: “You come against me with hatred and oppression and violence. I come against you in the name of God. This flag comes down today!”
Of her decision, and the prophetic streams of hopefulness behind those defiant words:
In one of those nights where I was pondering, “Have I completely lost my mind in doing this?” I read the story of David and Goliath, and David says to Goliath, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, and I come against you in the name of the Lord,” and that, for me as a black woman in America, that’s what that moment felt like, because I come from a historically completely disempowered place. And so I think that’s why it was so powerful to a lot of people, especially to black women, to see me up there holding that flag in that way.
Her action, of course, came 10 days after Dylann Roof massacred nine African-American churchgoers at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina — Roof who clothed his racism in the Confederate flag.
How quick we are to label and dismiss and lock away the prophets in our midst. Erika Totten, a young leader in the Black Lives Matter movement in Washington, DC, puts it this way: “People forget that Jesus flipped over tables. They don’t want to talk about that part. As Christians we need to think, ‘Where would Jesus be?’” Her answer: “He would be with the people.”
At risk of rhetorical excess, can I just say – and why not, on this eve of Independence Day in our country – “Bree Newsome for President.” Vice President? Secretary of Homeland Security?
Even better, may the people and jurists of South Carolina keep her out of jail, and may she continue in her artistic-prophetic vocation to inspire in us the same.