This past week we have become aware of a war being waged in the streets of America. The news of what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia awakened us to a dark reality which has emerged after many years of working its way into the mainstream. White nationalists, those who now call themselves the Alt-Right, remind us that extremist, hateful ideas and angry, violent actions are part of the on-going history of bigotry and terrorism within our own United States.
Against this backdrop of hatred and violent racism there are stories of faith and courage to be told. For example, in the summer of 2015, ten days after nine African Americans were brutally murdered while praying during bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, a black woman by the name of Brittany Newsome scaled the 30-foot flagpole at the South Carolina Statehouse and grabbed the Confederate flag and took it down. The mass murderer in Charleston, Dylann Root, had been inspired by the Confederate flag, had posed with it and had it displayed on his license plate. Eleven days after Newsome removed the flag, South Carolina Republican Gov. Nikki Haley signed a bill to remove all Confederate flags from statehouse grounds.
Newsome’s courageous act arose out of her faith; as she put it, “I mean, it took a great deal of faith. My faith is a large part of my activism. Faith is something we practice, so even in that moment just praying and staying focused and calling out to God was very important.” It was noted that Newsome was reciting the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 27 as she was taking the Confederate flag down.
Along with the inspiration of her faith, Newsome’s courageous act also arose out of a sense of urgency. There was no more waiting. She had to do something. As described by Lottie Joiner, editor of The Crisis magazine, Newsome was “following in the footsteps of those brave souls who came before her, women like Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells, and Rosa Parks who refused to accept the status quo.”