Bree Newsome, the civil rights activist who daringly scaled a 30-foot flagpole in Columbia, SC, to remove a Confederate flag from the statehouse grounds, was reportedly invited—then barred—from speaking to a group of North Carolina middle schoolers this week. The reason for her ignominious rejection? Her arrest for the very act that made her an attractive speaker in the first place.
According to the Asheville Citizen Times, Newsome was originally slated to address students at Asheville Middle School when she was told days before the event that her presence would violate school district policy.
Per a release given to local station WLOS from the district:
School board policy 3535 states that the involvement of any visiting speaker regarding citizenship issues must be ‘correctly structured’ by the school’s professional staff. The policy also states that the advocacy of illegal acts by a speaker is not permitted.
The Asheville School District representative also claimed that Newsome had only been considered as a speaker after author Margot Lee Shetterly was forced to cancel an appearance.
However, local social justice activist Ellie Richard claimed that Newsome’s speech had been in the works for months, telling the station:
On Thursday, I received a call from [AMS] Principal Dockery telling me that Bree was no longer invited, and I was stunned. It was a very wishy washy conversation. She did say that, well, ‘she’s been arrested.’ And I said an awful lot of activists have been arrested.
Here, for example, are several such activists—all of whom were arrested for and during their activism—who would likely have been barred from speaking to Asheville Public School students under the current policy.
Congressman John Lewis
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Richard reportedly lodged a complaint against the decision to the Asheville Board of Education earlier this week, but her objection prompted no response.
Despite the middle school cancellation, Newsome will be in Asheville this week for several other speaking engagements, including a portrait unveiling at the city’s Young Men’s Institute building. And while Asheville Middle School will no longer host Newsome for a school-specific presentation, Catherine McClain, head of Hanger Hall School for Girls, said her institution would be happy to have Newsome come and talk to the students.
“Middle school ages are a time when girls are defining who they are going to be and what kinds of citizens they are hoping to become,” McClain told the Citizen-Times. “There have been any number of people who have been arrested for being part of a protest, so I don’t think that negates the value of their message.”