On eve of debate, Stacey Abrams acknowledges participation in burning of ‘56 Georgia flag

On the eve of her first gubernatorial debate with Republican rival Brian Kemp, the campaign of Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams late Monday confirmed that she participated in the 1992 burning of the Georgia state flag and the Confederate battle emblem that had been attached to it during the ‘50s fight over segregation.

Asked about an AJC article from the period posted on Facebook, campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo pointed to a New York Times article that had been published minutes earlier.

The protest occurred just as Gov. Zell Miller was making a first, unsuccessful attempt to remove the battle emblem from the state flag – an attempt that nearly cost him re-election in 1994.

"We need to lay the days of segregation to rest, to let bygones be bygones, and rest our souls," Miller said only a few weeks before. "We need to do what is right."

The Confederate emblem had been attached in 1956, during a period of “massive resistance” against the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education decision to end school segregation.

That flag was finally hauled down in 2001 by Gov. Roy Barnes, an act that contributed to his defeat in 2002 by Sonny Perdue, the first Republican elected governor of Georgia during the modern era.

Abrams is seeking to become the first African-American woman to become governor of any state. From a statement quoted by the New York Times, issued by the Abrams campaign:

“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. This conversation was sweeping across Georgia as numerous organizations, prominent leaders and students engage in the ultimately successful effort to change the flag.”

The flag-burning could become especially sensitive, given Abrams’ 2017 statement advocating the removal of the massive bas relief carving on Stone Mountain, featuring three Confederate leaders: Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, and Confederate president Jeff Davis.

The AJC article, published in June 15, 1992, includes a photo of the flag burning, with Abrams – identified as “Stacy Abrams” in the background. Asked whether this was a 26-year-old photo of the candidate, the Abrams campaign replied with a link to the New York Times article.

The development is likely to become a topic at the first debate of gubernatorial candidates, sponsored by the Atlanta Press Club and broadcast at 7 p.m. Tuesday on Georgia Public Broadcasting stations.

From that 1992 article by John Blake, an AJC reporter:

As the students prepared to burn the flag at Sunday’s rally, five GBI agents took positions on the steps of the Capitol. A sixth agent circled behind the crowd and took pictures of Mr. [Lawrence] Jeffries as he torched the flag.

A reporter asked the agent why he was taking pictures. The agent scowled and turned away. A fellow GBI agent smiled. “Why does the newspaper take pictures?” he asked.

About the Author

Jim Galloway
Jim Galloway
Jim Galloway is a three-decade veteran of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution who writes the Political Insider blog and column.