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Charlotte activist who removed SC Confederate flag barred from Asheville school speech

Bree Newsome, the Charlotte activist who rose to national prominence in 2015 after scaling a 30-foot pole to remove a Confederate flag on the South Carolina statehouse grounds, was scheduled to speak to students at Asheville Middle School this week. But the event has been cancelled, with the school system citing a policy barring any speaker who “advocates unconstitutional or illegal acts or procedures.”

The community is rallying around Newsome and offering her alternative venues, according to a report from the Citizen-Times newspaper in Asheville.

From their story:

Carmen Ramos-Kennedy, the Asheville-Buncombe County NAACP president, said she was shocked to hear that Newsome’s speaking event was canceled because of her civil disobedience arrest. She said Newsome’s message is important, regardless of that.

“Bree brings a more in-depth analysis of what the Confederate flag stands for,” Ramos-Kennedy said. “She didn’t just climb up the pole to remove the flag; she knows what it means to people of color and to people of different religions.”

Asheville City Schools did not provide comment other than referring to their policy on visiting speakers that states: “In no instance shall a speaker who advocates unconstitutional or illegal acts or procedures be permitted to address students and no presentation or activities considered inconsistent with constitutional requirements or other applicable legal standards will be permitted.”

Ashley Thublin, communications director at Asheville City Schools, said the policy refers to Newsome’s brush with the law.

Ramos-Kennedy said, “What’s more American than civil disobedience?”

In the wake of the announcement, other schools and community groups in the area have stepped forward saying they would welcome Newsome if given the chance to host her.

Catherine McClain, head of Hanger Hall School for Girls, said she would be honored to have Newsome speak to her 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 said.

McClain emphasized that she wants her students to have women to look up to who are passionate about their work, like Newsome, whom she said could help educate students about different sides of political issues facing minorities.

In response to whether or not someone with an arrest record should be allowed to speak to students, McClain said that should not lessen the value of what they have to say.

“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,” McClain said.

The school system’s policy would have prevented speeches by American civil rights luminaries like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and U.S. Rep. John Lewis – all of whom broke laws and were arrested as part of their activism.

Newsome took action in South Carolina days after the horrific mass shooting at a Charleston church in which white supremacist Dylan Roof killed nine and injured three.

South Carolina lawmakers later decided to removed the Confederate flag from the statehouse grounds themselves.

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