Compiled by The Bedford Citizen
It was standing room only, both in the sanctuary and up in the balcony, as First Parish on Bedford Common hosted Bree Newsome as its annual Spirit of Democracy speaker Sunday morning.
Racial equality activist/filmmaker/musician Newsome attracted national publicity in July of last year when-in an act of civil disobedience-she she climbed a 30 foot flagpole to tear down the Confederate flag flying in front of the South Carolina statehouse. Referring to the flag “as a symbol of hatred,” she brought it to the ground and was promptly arrested. Her action followed the killing of nine black church-goers in Charleston, S.C.
Introducing Newsome, the Rev. John Gibbons, senior minister at First Parish, commented on Senator Mike Barrett’s suggestion that Bedford’s annual Liberty Pole Capping re-enactment might be seen as a Revolutionary War era counterpart to Newsome’s action.
Newsome talked about the violence erupting in many parts of the country as a result of racial injustice, including in her hometown of Charlotte, N.C. “We are in a state of great turmoil,” Newsome said. “But [turmoil] is a good time to sow the seeds of change.”
The service attracted both Bedford High students — who had heard about her scheduled appearance at school — and residents from all over town, including Newsome cousin Rachel Murphy and her family. Murphy is a long time Bedford resident and a long-time activist herself, advocating for fair housing since the mid-1960s, and coordinating Bedford’s METCO Host Family program in the early 1970s.
Newsome represents the current generation of young activists taking part in today’s struggle for racial equality. She urged her listeners to “move out of their comfort zones” and “begin to have uncomfortable conversations about race.”
How did she end up at the top of the flagpole? She said she was drafted from an assemblage of like-minded activists, including the Occupy Group. Noting that she was not an experienced climber without much body strength, she trained for the climb and a device on the rigging employed “strong leg muscles.”
“I thought of the freedom fighters; I prayed a lot before climbing, the fear did not go away…. I thought of the freedom riders who took that journey [from the north to the south] not knowing if they would come back alive.”
Editor’s Note: Bedford Citizen writers Andrea Cleghorn, Dot Bergin and Ginni Spencer contributed to this article.