Human rights activist Bree Newsome, who removed the Confederate battle flag from the South Carolina State House grounds in 2015, will deliver the Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Lecture, Monday, Feb. 11, at 7 p.m. in Sage Chapel. The event is free and open to the public.
Newsome’s lecture is titled “Tearing Hatred from the Sky.” Presented by campus and community partners, the annual King commemoration at Cornell began in 2001 to make King’s life and legacy of service and activism accessible for contemporary times.
“Over the last two years, we’ve noticed on the committee that Dr. King seems to be receding in a lot of people’s memories; it’s been 50 years now since his assassination,” said Rev. Daniel T. McMullin, associate dean of students in the Office of Spirituality and Meaning-Making and director of Cornell United Religious Work, the primary sponsors of the event.
“Our mission is to keep his life and legacy alive for those who may only know him as a historical figure,” McMullin said. “The task at hand is to find someone who represents the ethos of Dr. King’s writings and life, and Bree’s name came to the top of the list. She’s a young activist, and we were looking to find a speaker who was of or near the same generation as those who will come to hear her speak. More students were also involved in some of the preliminary planning this year.”
The event aspires to be a local example of King’s “beloved community,” and a collaboration across real and perceived stratification to promote moral values and social justice. On the day of the lecture, Newsome also will meet with youths and community members at the Greater Ithaca Activities Center.
On June 27, 2015, Newsome was arrested at the state house in Columbia, South Carolina, after scaling a flagpole and removing the flag, which was raised again 45 minutes later.
A group of activists had coordinated the action following the murder of nine African-Americans by a white supremacist 10 days earlier at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The international publicity surrounding Newsome’s act of civil disobedience put pressure on state officials, including then-Gov. Nikki Haley. After two days of debate, legislators voted 63-56 to permanently remove the Confederate flag from the grounds, less than three weeks after Newsome’s arrest.
The flag was originally raised in 1961, joining the U.S. and state flags on the South Carolina State House dome, ostensibly to mark the centennial of the first battle of the Civil War, at Fort Sumter. Many historians believe that raising the flag in the modern era represented Southern defiance in opposition to desegregation and the civil rights movement. The NAACP lobbied for its removal for decades, and the South Carolina Legislature agreed to a compromise in 2000: a smaller flag at a Confederate war memorial on the grounds.
Newsome, 33, is an award-winning filmmaker and community organizer from Charlotte, North Carolina. She attended high school in Columbia, South Carolina, and studied film at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. Her film “Wake” (2012) won multiple awards and screened at international film festivals, including Cannes. Her other works include a video, “Shake It Like an Etch-a-Sketch!,” satirizing 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney. She also is a musician and fronts the band Powerhouse.
She is a longtime advocate for voting rights, and her public speaking and writing have focused on topics of injustice, racial discrimination, and building and sustaining social movements.
Co-sponsors of this year’s MLK event include Student and Campus Life, the Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives and the Greater Ithaca Activities Center.