Down with the Confederacy! Lessons from Black Activists

Nov 16

2:00 pm - 3:15 pm

Zoom Webinar

Hosted by the Democracy Initiative’s Memory Project and Religion, Race & Democracy Lab

For as long as the misleading Lost Cause narrative of the Civil War has circulated, African American activists have spoken out against its attempts to erase Black agency and to redeem white supremacist violence. But early voices of protest were stifled by the spread of this ideology, which came to dominate mainstream public memory of the Civil War.

In recent years, the Black Lives Matter movement has again amplified resistance to Lost Cause mythology. Down with the Confederacy! Lessons from Black Activists is a conversation with Bree Newsome and Emil Little, who inspired the protest movement through their powerful symbolic acts of civil disobedience. After the Charleston Massacre in 2015, Newsome scaled the flagpole outside the South Carolina state capital and tore down the Confederate flag. Little protested at the University of North Carolina in 2018 by smearing their blood and red ink on the Silent Sam Confederate monument. The conversation will be moderated by Clint Smith, author of New York Times’ best-selling book How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America (2021).

This conversation is urgent today, as Charlottesville and other communities consider the fate of their Confederate monuments. The University of Virginia Democracy Initiative’s Memory Project is a proud sponsor of the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center’s “Swords Into Plowshares” proposal, which aims to melt down Charlottesville’s recently-removed Robert E. Lee statue and repurpose its bronze for new public art.

(Above: Confederate General Robert E. Lee monument dismantled from its base on September 8, 2021 in Richmond, Virginia. Photo: Eze Amos)

Emil Maya Little pouring red paint and blood on the Silent Sam Confederate monument at the University of North Carolina, 2018. Photo: Adam Lau.

Emil Maya Little pouring red paint and blood on the Silent Sam Confederate monument at the University of North Carolina, 2018. Photo: Adam Lau.


Bree Newsome

Bree Newsome Bass is an American filmmaker, musician, speaker, and activist from North Carolina, where she continues her work as an artist and grassroots community organizer. She is best known for her act of civil disobedience on June 27, 2015, when she was arrested for removing the Confederate flag from the South Carolina state house grounds in the aftermath of the Charleston Shooting. The resulting publicity put pressure on state officials to remove the flag, and it was taken down permanently on July 10, 2015. Her awards are numerous and include recognitions for her work as both an artist and activist, including a 2016 NAACP Image Award. Newsome Bass is lately focused on the issue of housing justice and remains a prominent public speaker on the topic of racial and economic justice as well as the importance of the arts in social movements.


Emil Little

Emil Little (they/them) is an antiracist activist who smeared their blood and red ink on the Silent Sam confederate monument at UNC in 2018 to expose the bloody foundation white supremacy is built on. After the UNC administration and Board of Governors committed to forming a mobile, anti protest police force and making a 5 million dollar mausoleum for the now toppled state, Emil called for a successful TA strike to oppose these plans. Facing persecution from police and ostracization from their department, Emil has moved to Michigan and is working on food sustainability and their health.


Clint Smith

Clint Smith is a staff writer at The Atlantic. He is the author of the narrative nonfiction book, How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning With the History of Slavery Across America, which was a #1 New York Times Bestseller, and the poetry collection Counting Descent, which won the 2017 Literary Award for Best Poetry Book from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association and was a finalist for an NAACP Image Award. He has received fellowships from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, New America, the Emerson Collective, the Art For Justice Fund, Cave Canem, and the National Science Foundation.