Dem Candidate's State Flag-Burning Pic Spreads Like Wildfire Day Before Debate
With the crucial midterm elections just two weeks away, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Georgia has become embroiled in controversy over actions taken when the candidate was a college student in 1992.
That candidate is Stacey Abrams, and her controversial actions in 1992 involved burning the state flag in protest, which at the time featured the “stars and bars” of the old Confederate battle flag as half of the state flag.
The New York Times reported that accounts and a picture of the incident, which made the front page of the local newspaper at the time, have re-emerged in recent days and began circulating on social media among supporters of Republican nominee Brian Kemp, who has labeled Abrams as “too extreme for Georgia.”
At the time of the flag-burning protest, Abrams was a freshman student at Spelman College in Atlanta. Abrams considered herself to be quite active in the fight for civil rights and racial equality at that time, and had recently led peaceful protests on campus following the acquittal of the four Los Angeles police officers who had severely beaten Rodney King in what was widely viewed to be a racially motivated incident of excessive force.
The flag-burning incident had been featured on the front page of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s local section with a picture that showed Abrams and two other black students holding up a burning Georgia state flag. That picture can now be seen spreading far and wide on social media, as well as in current media reports about the controversy.
As The Times noted, the Georgia legislature redesigned the state flag in 1956 to incorporate the Confederate design, ostensibly as a display of contempt for the federal government’s push at the time for racial integration of schools and other institutions.
That redesign of the flag only served to inflame racial tensions for many Georgians, though, which escalated through the 1990s until the state flag was redesigned again in 2001 to minimize the Confederate portion, then redesigned again in 2003 to remove the stars and bars completely.
In response to the sudden re-emergence of the flag-burning incident right before a gubernatorial debate just weeks prior to the election, Abrams’ campaign released a statement explaining that Abrams’ actions had merely been part of a “permitted, peaceful protest against the Confederate emblem in the flag” that in the end ultimately proved to be popular with state residents and successful, in that the flag was eventually changed.
“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,” according to the statement from Abrams’ campaign.
“This conversation was sweeping across Georgia as numerous organizations, prominent leaders, and students engaged in the ultimately successful effort to change the flag,” the statement continued. “Abrams’ time in public service as deputy city attorney and as a state legislative leader have all been focused on bringing people together to solve problems.”
Most recently, Abrams’ efforts at “struggling to overcome racially divisive issues” and “bringing people together” has involved the nominee leading the charge in Georgia against Confederate monuments and statues, including a demand that the massive Confederate carvings in the side of Stone Mountain be removed.
Her opponent, Kemp, has vowed to protect controversial statues and monuments — like Stone Mountain — from the “radical left” that seek to destroy them, as he feels Georgians should refrain from an “attempt to rewrite” history, no matter how unpleasant it may be for some.
The Times was unable to obtain a comment from Kemp’s campaign for its article about the flag-burning picture that has suddenly re-emerged.
While many Americans find the act of flag-burning — whether that be the American flag or a state flag — to be incredibly distasteful, it is nevertheless a protected act of free speech.
Furthermore, though opinions on the matter may certainly differ, opposition to the inclusion of the Confederate design on the state flag was a legitimate issue in Georgia that crossed racial and ideological lines.
It remains to be seen if this late-breaking controversy will have a negative effect on Abrams’ campaign. The race is exceptionally tight as it comes down to the wire, with the RealClearPolitics polling average placing Kemp in the lead over Abrams by a mere 1.5 points.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.