Stacey Abrams under fire for burning Confederate-themed state flag in 1992

As a college student, Abrams participated in a flag-burning protest against Confederate symbolism in Georgia's flag

By Igor Derysh

Published October 23, 2018 3:00PM (EDT)

Stacey Abrams (Kevin Carlin)
Stacey Abrams (Kevin Carlin)

Democratic Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams once took part in a protest where the state flag, which incorporated the Confederate flag design, was burned on the state capitol steps, the New York Times reports.

Abrams' role in the protest, which occurred during her freshman year at Spelman College in Atlanta, was revealed on social media ahead of her first debate with Republican candidate Brian Kemp, who is Georgia's secretary of state. Kemp has repeatedly attempt to portray Adams, the former minority leader of the state House of Representatives, as “too extreme.”

Her role in the protest was discovered in a 1992 Atlanta Journal-Constitution report, which featured a photo of a college-age Adams at the protest.

The student protesters "said the Georgia flag symbolizes a brutal time in the history of African Americans, and they demanded that the Legislature restore the original Georgia flag: the state seal superimposed on a field of blue," the article read.

Abrams, who would become the first black woman elected governor in the United States, has been an outspoken opponent of Confederate symbols in the South. After the deadly white nationalist march in Charlottesville, Virginia, last year, Abrams called for the removal of the Confederate Memorial Carving on Stone Mountain, Georgia, citing its links to the revival of the Ku Klux Klan. Kemp vowed to protect the memorial from “the radical left,” saying that Georgians should not “attempt to rewrite” history.

Abrams said in a statement to the New York Times that the flag burning was part of a “permitted, peaceful protest against the Confederate emblem in the flag.”

“During Stacey Abrams’ college years, Georgia was at a crossroads, struggling with how to overcome racially divisive issues, including symbols of the Confederacy, the sharpest of which was the inclusion of the Confederate emblem in the Georgia state flag,” the statement said. “This conversation was sweeping across Georgia as numerous organizations, prominent leaders, and students engaged in the ultimately successful effort to change the flag.”

The Confederate flag design was removed from the state flag in 2003. It had been added to the flag in 1956, during a “massive resistance” against the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education ruling that ended segregation in schools.

The news comes as Abrams and her supporters accuse Kemp of voter suppression after he purged more than 300,000 voters from the state's rolls in his capacity as secretary of state ahead of his gubernatorial bid. Kemp also blocked 53,000 new voter registrations under the state's controversial “exact match” program, which rejects applications that do not have the exact same information as a person's state or federal records, even if the discrepancy is as minor as a missing hyphen or dropped middle initial.

Speaking to supporters on her statewide bus tour last week, Abrams said Kemp has “made it his life’s mission to create the architecture of voter suppression, but we won’t let him win.”

She vowed “work as hard as we can to get all 53,000” blocked voters the right to cast a ballot.

“I need all of you to find 53,000 additional votes just in case,” she added. “This election is about history. We are talking about our voices and our votes because this is our time.”

Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is a staff writer at Salon. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

Tips/Email: Twitter: @IgorDerysh

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