Gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams has had to account for her participation in a state flag-burning more than two decades ago on the eve of her first and only debate against Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, her Republican opponent who has painted her as "too extreme" for the office.
On Monday, the New York Times reported that Abrams—who would be the first Black governor in Georgia as well as the first Black woman governor in the country—had participated in a protest as a student at Spelman College that involved burning the Georgia state flag, which, at the time, included Confederate symbolism.
Word of Abrams' involvement in the flag-burning first emerged on social media, when a reporter from the Daily Wire, the Ben Shapiro-led news site, tweeted out a newspaper clipping that includes a photo of Abrams in the act, sparking conservative outcry on the platform. Kemp's campaign has not publicly commented on the story.
In a statement to the Times, a spokesperson from Abrams campaign said the candidate had been at a "crossroads" as a young woman in college who was "struggling with how to overcome racially divisive issues, including symbols of the Confederate emblem in the Georgia state flag."
The flag-burning had been part of a "permitted, peaceful protest against the Confederate emblem in the flag," the spokesperson added, that was "ultimately successful."
The Georgia state flag included the Dixie cross of stars, a recognizable Confederate symbol, until 2003, when then-Governor Sonny Perdue signed legislation to replace the controversial emblem with the state's coat of arms and the words "In God We Trust."
Up until then, the symbology of the state flag had been a topic of great politically charged debate in Georgia, and was thought to have played a significant role in deciding the 2002 gubernatorial race, which Democrat Roy Barnes, who supported replacing the flag, lost his bid for a second term.
Kemp has firmly aligned himself on one side of the debate over Confederate statues and symbols—he's pledged to protect the largest Confederate monument in the world, which resides in Georgia, from being removed. But the largest issue at play in the Abrams-Kemp race is about voter disenfranchisement.
Kemp is currently being sued by Palast Investigative Fund, a nonprofit and nonpartisan trust, and grassroots organization the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda for purging more than 340,000 voters from the state's rolls and blocking some 50,000 prospective voters, the vast majority of whom were Black and Latino, from registering to begin with.
An analysis of the voter purges found that found that 334,134 of the residents removed from the rolls on the grounds that they had moved still live at the addresses with which they originally registered, according to the Guardian.
With just two weeks until Election Day, Abrams and Kemp are just one percentage point away from each other in the polls, with Kemp taking a slight lead. Activists, organizers, and community members worry that Kemp's voter purge will disenfranchise Black voters and steal a win from Abrams.
“Everybody I speak to says, ‘I’m voting but why?'” said Rev. Mildred Holmes-Denson, a Macon, Georgia, pastor told the Daily Beast. “Even if Stacey wins, do you know Kemp’s in control of it? Can it be fair when he’s her opponent and says, 'This one can vote. That one can’t vote.' How can it be fair when he’s there to suppress any vote he wants?”
Abrams is trying to combat those feelings of powerlessness with calls to fight Kemp's apparent attempt to stymy turnout.
"[Kemp] made it his life’s mission to create the architecture of voter suppression, but we won’t let him win," Abrams said last week. "This election is about history. We are talking about our voices and our votes because this is our time.”