When Kezia M. Williams took a trip to Columbia, South Carolina, she didn’t expect to find herself in the middle of a Confederate flag celebration outside of the Statehouse.
That didn’t stop her from making a bold statement.
A photo of Williams holding up a ‘black power fist’ during the rally has thousands of ‘likes’ on Facebook and she’s written an op-ed about why she wasn’t afraid to be there.
The activist, who works on black entrepreneurship initiatives, told theGrio.com the story behind the picture and when things took a turn at the rally.
TheGrio: Kezia, we thought your photo was bold and certainly made a statement. First tell us: what inspired you to go to the rally?
Kezia M. Williams: I didn’t plan to go to the rally. I was in South Carolina for two reasons — the first to recruit African-American college seniors to join the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) national entrepreneurship initiative, which I lead. The second was for the United Negro College Fund Empower Me tour. On the way back from the tour, [my coworker] thought we should go see where Bree Newsome took down the flag.
Then we saw the rally. We were in the car and were like, “We have to discuss whether attending this rally is a good idea. We need to go see this now.” We got out of the car.
TG: So how did people react to you being present and especially when you put that fist up?
KW: As soon as we walked over, a group of white men approached us and asked if we were there to support. And we said, “No, we are here to see where Bree took down the flag.”
And then we instantly engaged in a debate. They said what the flag meant to them and that they had ancestors who died for the flag. They actually asked us our point of view, and we engaged in back and forth…
When we went to take the picture, that’s when things got a little ugly. One person asked “Do you think it’s appropriate to raise a black power fist? To do that in this space?” Another said to my co-worker, who is lighter-skinned than me, “We hope you’re not going to put this fist up like her when you take your picture because you’re a half black.”
KW: It’s amazing how things turned.
After that, when we were leaving, the same group of men who approached us initially said to respect their position and to respect their space. And we said it wasn’t their space — it was a public space.
Two white men from Ohio asked if we were scared and if we needed them to walk us to our car, and we said no, and that’s when we left the rally.
TG: Along the lines of being scared, I’m sure you’ve seen what’s been happening at a lot Donald Trump rallies. What made you so fearless and bold?
We’d been to other cities over the past 5 weeks, and in each space we sought out spaces where black history has been made. And we didn’t think about where the danger was. We saw where Dr. Martin Luther was killed, a replica of Rosa Parks sitting on a bus… learned about Wiley College’s debate team going into Southern cities and being accosted by white supremacists…
We saw how Bennett Belles had integrated lunch counters… Maybe subconsciously knowing the real danger that our ancestors had experienced in the 1950s made us attending a flag rally rank low on that list. If they can be bold in their actions, then we can be bold too.