History Didn’t Just Happen

Markeshia Ricks PhotoWhen activist Bree Newsome climbed into the history books by scaling a flagpole on the South Carolina statehouse grounds and removing the Confederate flag, many people assumed that one very fed up black woman had taken spontaneous action.

Newsome disabused a crowd gathered at Yale University’s Battell Chapel of that notion Wednesday evening. She told them that her act of resistance three years ago — which sparked a national reconsideration of honoring the Confederacy — wasn’t spontaneous at all but the result of meticulous planning and collective decision-making by nine activists.

Those gathered heard the story as the North Carolina native delivered this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Keynote Address sponsored by Yale College Dean’s Office, the Afro-American Cultural Center at Yale, the Office of the Secretary & Vice President for Student Life of Yale University, Yale Office of New Haven & State Affairs, and Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. (You can watch the address in the Facebook Live video at the bottom of this story.)

“Once we settled the first matter of who would scale the pole, which was largely a matter of who could physically do it and who could risk being arrested ... we as a collective thought more about what we wanted to communicate visually and symbolically with this action,” Newsome said. “We would be attacking a symbol of white supremacy with an action that symbolized it’s dismantling.”

The activists knew that Newsome and anyone with her that day would likely be arrested. Someone who could withstand an arrest needed to be with her.

A fellow activist named James Tyson volunteered to accompany her that day as she scaled the four-foot tall spoked fence that surrounded the flagpole. He helped her get over the fence and stood guard, waiting for police.

“As I neared the top of the pole and prepared to remove the flag, the officers on the ground trained their Tasers on me and threatened to shoot me with bolts of electrical currents,” she said. “Given that I was attached to a metal pole, they could have potentially electrocuted me.”

Tyson would grab the pole that day, telling officers if they were going to electrocute Newsome, they had to electrocute him too. He also would be arrested with her after their mission had been accomplished. Tyson is white.

“It’s become common to hear social justice advocates say that they don’t need white allies, they need white accomplices,” she said. “An accomplice is what James was that day. History will rightly remember him alongside the many white accomplices over the centuries who have risked their own safety and in some cases spilled their own blood in defense of black life and in the name of freedom.”

Newsome said that her action that day was never just about removing the flag. She said it was “about abolishing the spirit of hatred and oppression in all its forms.”

“What we see today, what King called for in 1968 is greater than a constitutional right,” she added. “It is the issue of human rights.”

A Time of Counter-Revolution

In her address, Newsome drew a line that connected the civil rights movement, to the Black Power movement to today’s Black Lives Matter movement. She used the theme of the keynote, “Chaos or Community: Fifty Years Later, Where Do We Go from Here?,” and King’s own writings, including the words that he wrote that would become his last book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?.

“King in that last book made the salient argument that counter-revolution inevitably accompanies revolutionary progress,” she said. “In 2016, Make America Great Again emerged as the counter-revolutionary movement to Black Lives Matter. With America’s two steps forward, one step back approach to addressing racial injustice a person eager for change can easily slip into despair.

“But between pessimism and optimism resides a healthy realism that organizers activists and dreamers alike must embrace if we are to successfully bring about change. Being realistic means recognizing how much effort it takes to achieve equality and justice in a nation built on slavery and genocide.”

Newsome noted King’s own frustrations with white allies of his day, who effectively gave up on the cause of racial equality once their efforts at unity had defeated the outright barbarism visited on black people. She noted that King also chastened the black middle class, whom he said met the plight of their impoverished brothers and sisters with indifference. She said she sees similar patterns in today’s fights for racial justice and equality.

“The problem is never when folks show up but how they show up,” she said. “Many that have shown up have defined the resistance as beginning and ending with the Trump administration. But resisting the Trump administration is not necessarily the same as resisting white supremacy or advocating for racial equity.”

She said King foresaw the fight for racial equity as one made up of many small, even quiet victories such as the centering of mass incarceration and police brutality as part of this fight in such a way that it drives national debate and leads to formal investigations by the U.S. Justice Department into police departments.

But two steps forward, one step back.

“It must be understood that a system built on anti-blackness cannot be reformed into a system that values black lives,” she said. “And that the system instead itself must undergo a radical transformation in its values and organization.”

Reclaiming A Radical Legacy

Newsome said she was deeply disturbed at the way King’s message of nonviolence has been “weaponized” to “stifle legitimate protest” over the years.

“It’s become a popular practice to invoke King and nonviolence to criticize uprisings and even moderate nonviolent civil disobedience,” she pointed out. “When Black Lives Matters protesters began blocking traffic and disrupting commerce, many including black leaders said they disapproved because this is not what King would have done.”

Such acts of disobedience happened all over the country, including here in New Haven touching off furious debates about the efficacy of such protest. Further fuel was added to such debates when a Yale University dining hall employee, Corey Menafee, knocked out a stained-glass panel of window in the former Calhoun College, a year after Newsome removed the Confederate flag in South Carolina.

“First of all ...”

Before she could go on, the crowd burst out laughing. In popular culture, when a black woman starts a sentence with “first of all,” it is the verbal equivalent of her balling up her fist and preparing to land a blow.

“First of all,” Newsome continued, “we can’t say with certainty how King would respond to these modern protests. We can’t say with certainty because despite living a life of nonviolence, King was targeted by the FBI and ultimately murdered by white supremacists.

“Secondly, if the only time officials are invoking the name of King and the spirit of nonviolence is to criticize those protesting injustice and not to call out the violence and evil of police and prisons and poverty and racism that is an hypocrisy and an offense to everything that King stood for,” she said.

She made the case that an uprising — a more accurate way, in her mind, to describe what the media often calls a riot — is “more than the misdirected chaos that it is so often portrayed to be.

“It’s actually an informed and targeted rebellion against the oppression of racism and capitalism.”

She said one of the main arguments leveled at people who react in rebellion and destroy property is “that people are destroying their own communities.”

“But this argument overlooks the reality that in many of these communities, those who live there own practically nothing,” she said. “They don’t own the housing they live in or the stores where they shop. They don’t even own the streets and the sidewalks where they are subjected to heavy policing.”

“I’m not saying that I reject nonviolence,” she added. “What I am saying is that I do reject the notion that there is any moral equivalency between police depriving Eric Garner of oxygen in a chokehold and a black teenager smashing the window of a police vehicle in protest of racism.”

Newsome said the question of human rights is the question of our times.

“And it is up to us, all of us, to provide the answer,” she said.

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posted by: Inside 165 on January 25, 2018  9:38am

Bree Newsome is a courageous and strong black woman that certainly should inspire others in our community. Please don’t dilute her actions by grouping her with someone like Corey Menafee. Only the New Haven Independent could name someone like him person of the year.

I agree with Bree that there is not any “moral equivalency between police depriving Eric Garner of oxygen in a chokehold and a black teenager smashing the window of a police vehicle in protest of racism.”

The problem is the reason why we protest is to gain attention and support for our issues and when that black teenager is on the news breaking that window or walking down the street with a flatscreen tv that he just looted the people watching morally justify all actions of the police. One of the very issues being protested. Argue why that doesn’t make sense all you want but that’s the reality. The other problem is that teenager, if they are going to die at that age, statistically will die because of a homocide at the hands of another black teenager.

I think as a community we don’t have to wait until our house is in order before we take on real issues like police brutality.  Though we do have to acknowledge and ADDRESS the problems with members of our community at the same time. The do what we say not what we do approach doesn’t cut it anymore.

posted by: Babz Rawls Ivy on January 25, 2018  11:00am

I think whenever we “Smash” ish in this country folks will find ways to take issue with the “smashing”.  Mr. Menafee was indeed courageous in his “smashing” of ish.

I enjoyed hearing this young Sister talking about how Black women are oppressed and exploited by everyone. Black women have been saving the world from the beginning of time! We do it, because it has to be done.

Side bar: White-on-White crime is the highest crime in the land… In the world. White folks die at the hands of White folks at alarming rates. I daresay that if white kids were killed at the same rate of Black kids at the hands of Black police, white folks would turn their looting and destruction away from sporting events and go after police departments… But I digress.

I walked out there feeling quite satisfied with the passing of the resistance torch to these young resistors.

The drumming set the tone! The African dance lesson was BOSS!

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on January 25, 2018  2:05pm

posted by: Inside 165 on January 25, 2018 9:38am

Bree Newsome is a courageous and strong black woman that certainly should inspire others in our community. Please don’t dilute her actions by grouping her with someone like Corey Menafee. Only the New Haven Independent could name someone like him person of the year.

Why not he got the wheels moving.

The problem is the reason why we protest is to gain attention and support for our issues and when that black teenager is on the news breaking that window or walking down the street with a flatscreen tv that he just looted the people watching morally justify all actions of the police.

How about the rip from Rent-A-Center and Other places like Rent-A-Center that preys on the poor.In fact A family friend of mine The Rev. Taharka Robinson and others hold protest to shut these crooks down.Even , Sen. Chuck Schumer - call rent-to-own companies one of the most despicable industries around.Schumer’s staff found a 37-inch television offered at Rent-A-Center for 104 weekly rental payments of $31.99 each - a total of $3,326.96. The same model could be purchased outright at Best Buy for $850.“They prey upon the financially illiterate in certain communities,” says Robinson.She also runs the Brooklyn Anti-Violence Coalition

http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/rent-a-center-ripoff-preys-poor-article-1.420198

The other problem is that teenager, if they are going to die at that age, statistically will die because of a homocide at the hands of another black teenager.

Give me a break with this. Blacks kill Blacks well, the same reasons why Italians kill Italians, Polish kill Polish, Irish kill Irish, Latino kill Latino and ect… (money, gang activity, jealousy, crime, extortion, and many other worthless/foolish reasons.People kill each other Period. It’s been the case for thousands and thousands of years.

Part One

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on January 25, 2018  2:25pm

Part Two

The same thing for Black on Black crime which is a label placed on for menticidal purposes. The majority of crimes committed, and this includes white folk, are committed against those that look like themselves. Please don’t allow the media to trick you into thinking white folk don’t kill other white folk, Asian folk don’t kill other Asians, etc.Let a mob boss get sick of his uncle runnin shxxt. Some disgruntled young white boy will go into a school in his own neighborhood and wipe out half the population, The Russian Mafia referred to as Bratva (brothers and/or brotherhood), In Brooklyn New York do each other in Brighton Beach. It ain’t just us Black folks.We’re the only ones the media focuses on.

I think as a community we don’t have to wait until our house is in order before we take on real issues like police brutality.

You must not follow Barbara Fair and John Lugo.Both are in the streets fight police brutality.I was there.Care to join.

https://youtu.be/gRVBzO7C5D0

In fact Black Lives Matter had a protest to focuse on crime in community. I was there.

Black Lives Matter protest focuses on crime in New Haven communities

Both women agreed, the correct response to black-on-black crime is to take back control of the neighborhood and look out for each other.
“You can’t let the vagrants of the community control (it),” Miller-Granger said.

http://www.nhregister.com/connecticut/article/Black-Lives-Matter-protest-focuses-on-crime-in-11321833.php

In fact Across This Country there are groups of people of color who are doing the same thing.

Black People Are Not Ignoring ‘Black on Black’ Crime
The politics of changing the subject

https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2014/08/black-people-are-not-ignoring-black-on-black-crime/378629/

The do what we say not what we do approach doesn’t cut it anymore.

I ma lost on this one.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on January 25, 2018  4:49pm

Newsome noted King’s own frustrations with white allies of his day, who effectively gave up on the cause of racial equality once their efforts at unity had defeated the outright barbarism visited on black people

Home run.But brother. MALCOLM X said the same thing.The white liberal differs from the white conservative only in one way. The liberal is more deceitful than the conservative. The liberal is more hypocritical than the conservative. Both want power, but the white liberal is the one who has perfected the art of posing as the Negro’s friend and benefactor, and by winning the friendship and support of the Negro, the white liberal is able to use the Negro as a pawn or tool in this political football game. Politically the American Negro is nothing but a football, and the white liberals control this mentally dead ball. Through tricks of tokenism and false promises, and they have the willing cooperation of Negro leaders. These leaders sell out our people for just a few crumbs of token recognition and token gains——-MALCOLM X ( from his speech called, God’s Judgment of White America)

She noted that King also chastened the black middle class, whom he said met the plight of their impoverished brothers and sisters with indifference. She said she sees similar patterns in today’s fights for racial justice and equality.

Another home run.I keep saying the same thing.We have more Black elected officials in the United States than at any point in American history. Yet for the vast majority of Black people, life has changed very little. Black elected officials have largely governed in the same way as their white counterparts have.These black politicians are beholden to their wealthy donors and that is who drumbeat they will march to.Like I said black faces in high place are the new oppressors of Black people.

Part One.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on January 25, 2018  5:21pm

Part Two

We used to have activists who went into politics like Adam Clayton Powell Shirley Chisholm Ronald Dellums, Mayor Chokwe Lumumba, Charles Barron. But now we have career opportunists who’ve attended Yale and Harvard, and their agenda is just to stay in office.

She pointed out. “When Black Lives Matters protesters began blocking traffic and disrupting commerce, many including black leaders said they disapproved because this is not what King would have done.”

And Brother Malcolm X gave the best answer.

The difference between the House Negro and the Field Negro

https://youtu.be/3TE3WYUVj4U

Look at these black minsters who had just celebrate Dr.king birthday in there churches.Just look at the list of people who they had to speak.If Dr.King was here who would have march on those Minsters and those Snake-Oil Selling Three Card Monte Speaks for selling out the people.And another sad part is I know a lot of those minsters.And they do not even know who Andrew Young Rev.Fred Shuttlesworth Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker Fannie Lou Hamer an many more.Sad!!!

Newsome said the question of human rights is the question of our times.
“And it is up to us, all of us, to provide the answer,” she said.

Correct and that is why I follow Brother Malcolm X who said

You spend so much time barking up the civil-rights tree, you don’t even know there’s a human-rights tree on the same floor.
Malcolm X

When you expand the civil-rights struggle to the level of human rights, you can then take the case of the black man in this country before the nations in the UN. You can take it before the General Assembly. You can take Uncle Sam before a world court. But the only level you can do it on is the level of human rights. Civil rights keeps you under his restrictions, under his jurisdiction. Civil rights keeps you in his pocket.
Malcolm X