A new ad targeting Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp alleges that the incumbent Republican received nearly $1 million in campaign contributions from supporters of “segregation academies” and that if re-elected the incumbent Republican would cut public school funding and give tax credits to donors of elite private schools with a history of excluding nonwhite students.
Dubbed “Brian Kemp: Right for Segregationists. Wrong for Georgia”, the 30-second spot is part of a six-figure digital ad buy from the Progress Action Fund, a left-leaning political action committee whose raison d’etre is pouring dollars into attack ads against Republicans on behalf of Democrats in contested races.
The ad’s imagery invokes throwbacks to Georgia’s history of legalized segregation and draws a modern-day link to Kemp. It’s intended to boost Stacey Abrams, the Democratic nominee for Georgia governor. Abrams narrowly lost to Kemp in 2018 but this election cycle has outraised him by millions and remains locked in a tight race to unseat her rival. Midway through the ad, an old black-and-white photo shows a group of white men waving Confederate battle flags, with one holding a picket sign reading, “We want a white school.” It ends with a picture of Kemp imposed over a man holding another Confederate flag.
Although not mentioned in the ad, Progress Action Fund says its research shows the Kemp campaign took in $930,000 from leaders of private schools with roots as segregation academies. Segregation academies are private schools that sprung up across the South in the two decades following the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, which outlawed public school segregation. After Brown, many white parents chose to pull their kids out of desegregated public schools rather than educate them alongside Black students; segregation academies emerged as an alternative.
That, Progress Action Fund says, includes Athens Academy, a private school in Athens, Georgia, which Kemp, 58, attended years ago. The school charges between $9,750 per year in tuition for kindergarten and $21,685 for high school seniors according to its website.
Athens Academy’s website includes a non-discrimination statement that says it “admits qualified students of any race, color, religion, age, sex, national origin, disability status, genetics, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or any other characteristic protected by federal, state or local laws to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the school.”
John C. Thorson, head of school at Athens Academy, told The Root by email that he isn’t familiar with the new ad but that the school was never a segregation academy. “Athens Academy was not founded as a segregationist school and has always welcomed all to join our community, as stated in our founding charter. We pride ourselves on being a diverse school of educators and students,” Thorson said. Kemp, he said, only attended Athens Academy through the fifth grade, transferring to and later graduating from local public schools.
The Root reached out to Kemp’s campaign for comment but hasn’t yet received a response.
Progress Action Fund has been active in Georgia, a state with shifting demographics that broke Democrats’ way in the 2020 races for president and two U.S. Senate seats. The PAC’s website takes credit for its “viral and award-winning ads [which] were key to Jon Ossoff & Rev. Raphael Warnock’s victories in Georgia.”
Warnock and Ossoff are Democrats who in 2020 won U.S. Senate seats formerly held by Republicans. Their victories flipped control of the Senate to Democrats. Ossoff isn’t up from re-election this year but Warnock is in a bitter race with former University of Georgia and NFL football star Herschel Walker, who has the backing of former President Donald Trump. Walker is Black and throughout his campaign has appeared before audiences of mostly white supporters to minimize, if not deny, the existence of racism and its influence on politics and public policy.