Preview: Charlotte activists who took down S.C. Confederate flag speak with Creative Loafing

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James Tyson (left) and Bree Newsome (center) pose with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! - PHOTO PROPERTY OF JAMES TYSON
  • Photo property of James Tyson
  • James Tyson (left) and Bree Newsome (center) pose with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!
Charlotte-area activist James Tyson is no stranger to being thrown in jail for what he believes in. He’s been arrested for activist activities during the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte in 2012 and again during Moral Monday activities in Raleigh in 2014.

What's new to him, however, is being thrown into the national media spotlight for such action. But once Tyson was arrested alongside Bree Newsome, also of Charlotte, after she climbed a flagpole and removed the Confederate flag on South Carolina state Capitol grounds on June 27, 2015, that’s where he found himself.

Tyson had taken a year off of activist work to focus on his Charlotte-area farm and personal life leading up to the flag action, but said he felt called to “something bigger than myself” after being contacted by a group of about 10 Charlotte activists who organized and carried out the flag removal.

When Creative Loafing caught up with Tyson on Friday afternoon, he had just arrived back in Charlotte from a national media blitz that saw him and Bree making appearances on Good Morning America, MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes and Comedy Central’s The Nightly Show, among others.

Tyson was working on a couple hours of sleep during each of the last two nights, he said, and his usual, energized speaking voice was subdued. Still, Tyson spoke with Creative Loafing for nearly an hour about the action he and Newsome took part in, the risks involved and why they felt it was important to take those risks.

In the upcoming July 9 edition of Creative Loafing, Tyson’s interview will be found alongside one with Newsome, who has agreed to sit down with Creative Loafing on July 4 to describe her experience leading up to and removing the flag. Below is an excerpt from Friday’s interview with Tyson.

Creative Loafing: After Bree took the flag down, it went back up in 45 minutes, were you hoping it would stay down?

James Tyson: We didn’t think it was critical that the flag would stay down. We knew that it was likely it would go back up, but I think we also thought there was a possibility that if everybody in the government, or pretty much everyone, was saying it was time to come down, that if we took it down for them, they would be confronted with a situation where they were actually saying we need to take it down, but they would have to raise it again. Nikki Haley shouldn’t have that honor [of taking the flag down]. There is no honor when it comes to that for her. She’s doing it because her hands are tied. She’s not doing it because it’s the right thing to do. So to back up, we really just wanted to point to the absurdity of that and the hypocrisy of [raising it back up].


Overall, what is the biggest thing you took from your experience over the last week?

As an activist, I was inspired. I was inspired by Bree and I was inspired by the rest of the crew. I was surprised at my own courage. I didn’t see it until a couple days ago, but I realized that Bree is a hero to me, and she’ll always be a hero to me. It’s one of those things that, until a couple days ago, it was just Bree; she’s just a person I work with. But going through that media circuit with her in particular and hearing her talk so eloquently over and over and over again and hearing her drilling in the points, it was such an inspiration to see. And then I had some time to reflect on it and I kept on looking at that picture of her holding that flag, and I realized what an important moment that is for America, it’s almost bringing tears to my eyes right now just talking about it.

Also, what I’ve had an opportunity to put in context is that we all, whether we come from very educated backgrounds with good families, maybe even parents that have been involved with civil rights movement, which is kind of my background, I’ve learned that there is so much that I’ve picked up from our culture, where I carry racism around within me as well. And so by dismantling racism within our society, you actually have to start identifying what is within you and how you have been furthering racism versus dismantling it. I get to reflecting about all the things in my past where maybe I was an asshole and didn’t realize it or maybe I just didn’t understand. This has allowed me to understand a little bit more and do some personal work on myself.

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