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Bree Newsome, who removed Confederate flag, known as principled leader

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High school classmates recall #BreeNewsome: 'You could tell she wasn't a pushover'

Those who know Bree Newsome — the young woman who climbed a flagpole in front of South Carolina's Statehouse to remove the Confederate flag on Saturday — aren't surprised by her bold step.

Even as a student at Columbia's Oakland Mills High School, she stood out for her accomplishments and leadership, former classmates said.

"This is what she was destined to do," said Amy Adler, who sang in the school choir with her. "She literally took [the flag] into her own hands, which is very much what she does. She has a very on-the-ground, hands-on approach to change. I wish more people had her energy."

Howard County Councilman Calvin Ball, who lives in Oakland Mills, knows Newsome and praised her actions.

"I'm very proud of her for her courage and leadership," he said. "She continues to use her strength to fight for and empower others."

Newsome, 30, who now lives in Charlotte, N.C., was charged Saturday with defacing monuments on the Capitol grounds. Authorities said she continued scaling the more than 30-foot tall flagpole and unhooked the flag, ignoring orders from officers who arrived when she was about halfway up.

The charge is a misdemeanor that carries a fine of up to $5,000, an imprisonment term of up to three years or both. James Ian Tyson, a 30-year-old from Charlotte, was also charged in the incident.

They were later released on bond.

The flag, which is protected by state law, was raised again about 45 minutes later, well ahead of a rally by people who want to keep the flag where it is.

About the time of her arrest, Newsome released an email statement to the media.

"We removed the flag today because we can't wait any longer. We can't continue like this another day," the statement said. "It's time for a new chapter where we are sincere about dismantling white supremacy and building toward true racial justice and equality."

Calls for removing the flag have been renewed since nine black churchgoers were killed in what police characterized as a racist attack at a Charleston, S.C., church. Gov. Nikki Haley, a Republican, has called for the flag to come down and state lawmakers have agreed to discuss the issue during the legislative session.

The social media response to Newsome's arrest was swift and forceful. Twitter lit up with tweets calling for police to release her under the hashtag #FreeBree. A crowdfunding campaign for Newsome's legal expenses raised more than $65,000 by late afternoon.

Close friend Shayla Adams said Newsome was always socially and politically conscious, but her activism picked up more recently. Newsome is an organizer with Ignite NC, a nonprofit group challenging voting laws that it contends are discriminatory, according to her Facebook page.

At Oakland Mills High, where she was known as Brittany, Newsome was active in student government, serving as president of the student body as a senior. A composer of music at a young age, Newsome also starred in high school productions of "The Wiz" and "Bye Bye Birdie."

YM Magazine named her one of the "20 Coolest Girls In America" in 2003.

"It stood out how smart she was," said Ryan Fox, 33, of Columbia, who graduated ahead of Newsome.

Former Oakland Mills principal Marshall Peterson told the Baltimore Sun in 2003 that Newsome was "the most gifted student" he'd ever known. "She has been ready for the big time for a couple of years," he said.

After graduating, Newsome went to New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, where she studied film. The production company she started as a teen was called Quiet Girl productions, after a Langston Hughes poem.

"She was an absolutely lovely person, so sweet, but at the same time you could tell she wasn't a pushover and she would stand up for things that were right," said Ebony Hypolite, 30, of Columbia, who graduated from Oakland Mills a year ahead of Newsome and knew her through choir. "That's why her doing this is not surprising at all."

Newsome is the daughter of Clarence G. Newsome, a former dean at Howard University's School of Divinity, who integrated the football program at Duke University and remains a trustee there. The Newsomes left Columbia after he was appointed president of Shaw University in Raleigh, N.C., in 2003. He is now president of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati.

Hypolite said the two girls fell out of touch after graduating, but she had followed her schoolmate's career from afar.

"We're all just so very proud that she would do something so bold," Hypolite said. "I'm sure people thought to do it and maybe they even talked about it, but she actually did it."

The NAACP praised Newsome's actions and called on authorities to treat her with leniency.

"Prosecutors should treat Ms. Newsome with the same large-hearted measure of justice that inspired her actions. The NAACP stands with our youth and behind the multigenerational band of activists fighting the substance and symbols of bigotry, hatred and intolerance," NAACP President Cornell William Brooks said in an emailed statement.

Some South Carolina lawmakers, however, worried that Newsome's actions would hurt efforts to bring the flag down permanently.

"There are 2 ways the Confederate Flag can be removed forever. Citizens please engage legally or we lose!" state Sen. Marlon Kimpson of Charleston, a Democrat, said on his Twitter account.

In another tweet, Republican state Sen. Shane Massey of Edgefield said such actions" will make this discussion much more difficult."

Both lawmakers favor bringing down the flag.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

nsherman@baltsun.com

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