Watch as activist takes down Confederate flag outside S.C. State House, gets arrested

Posted at 1:15 PM, Jun 27, 2015
and last updated 2015-06-27 20:04:55-04

NOTE: See the video above for a summary of the events at the State House, and scroll down for a tweet containing raw footage of the flag removal and subsequent arrest and for another video of an interview with the woman as she was being led away.

By Greg Botelho

(CNN) -- In the 10 days since a young white supremacist walked into a historically black church in South Carolina and killed nine people, the sight of the Confederate battle flag flying on the grounds of the state Capitol has been unbearable for many.

But for a brief time around dawn Saturday, it wasn't there.

An activist took it down herself around 6:30 a.m., the #BlackLivesMatter movement said in a statement. Video shows her climbing the flagpole on the State House grounds in Columbia just after sunrise as a number of people look on from the ground.

The woman -- who was wearing climbing gear -- was arrested and charged with defacing a monument, a misdemeanor, as was a man who was standing inside the wrought-iron fence enclosure, according to the S.C. Department of Public Safety.

The department identified the climber as Brittany Newsome, 30, and the man as James Tyson, also 30. A spokesman for #BlackLivesMatter identified the woman only as "Bree."

A new flag went up within about an hour and "no further damage was done," the department added.

Later, the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. posted on Twitter, "We thank God that @BreeNewsome had the courage to take the flag down! #KeepItDown."

The incident is yet another moment in the furor over the Confederate banner on the State House grounds, and in the broader controversy of its value now -- anywhere in American society -- 150 years after the end of the Civil War.

South Carolina lawmakers raised the universally known Confederate emblem over the State House in 1961, officially in honor of the war's centennial. But it was also a time of growing momentum in the civil rights movement, and white leaders in the South were digging their heels in against efforts to end segregation.

For nearly 40 years it flew under the U.S. and state flag, above the seat of government, until a compromise measure moved to a flagpole next to a soldiers' monument, and its position there has since been protected by state law.

That move didn't satisfy activists who maintained that the flag's display on the grounds amounted to tacit state endorsement of white supremacy.

But calls for its removal got nowhere.

Not before June 17, 2015.

That was the night a 21-year-old white man walked into Charleston's Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, sat for about an hour with a group gathered for a Bible study, then began shooting. When asked to stop, the gunman replied -- according to Sylvia Johnson, who talked to a survivor -- "'No, you've raped our women, and you are taking over the country ... I have to do what I have to do.'"

All nine of Dylann Roof's victims were African-American, including the pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who also was a state senator.

Roof's motivations became even clearer after his arrest the next day in North Carolina. A website surfaced showing a racist manifesto and 60 photos of Roof, some of them showing him waving Confederate flags while armed as well as burning an American flag.

This further spurred politicians around the South to re-examine the placement of the Confederate flags on everything from government property to state-issued license plates.

South Carolina's Republican governor, Nikki Haley, on Monday called for the removal of the flag, saying that while it is "an integral part of our past, [it] does not represent the future of our great state." Among the politicians joining her at the announcement were U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, both Republicans, and Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn.

State legislators on Tuesday resoundingly voted to allow debate on a bill to bring it down.

Until such a bill passes, it continues to fly -- except for a brief time around dawn Saturday.

In the #BlackLivesMatter statement, Newsome explained her actions, saying, "we can't wait any longer."

"We can't continue like this another day," Newsome said. "It's time for a new chapter where we are sincere about dismantling white supremacy and building toward true racial justice and equality."

CNN's Carma Hassan contributed to this report.

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