Civil rights icon backs Abrams in Georgia governor race

The Rev. Joseph Lowery at a prayer vigil at the Central United Methodist Church in May 2014. AJC/Jason Getz

Civil rights leader Joseph Lowery endorsed Democrat Stacey Abrams’ campaign for governor on Monday, calling her a leader who “puts people first and refuses to leave anyone behind.”

Lowery’s endorsement gives Abrams a boost in a bitter primary fight against state Rep. Stacey Evans that has underlined racial tensions within the party.

“Stacey Abrams is a leader who will work for change,” said Lowery, “and help all of us find the power within ourselves to do the same.”

Abrams, a state legislator who was once the top Democrat in the House, has defied conventional Democratic strategy as she runs to be the nation’s first black female governor. Her plan hinges on mobilizing progressive voters, particularly black women, and energizing left-leaning minorities who rarely cast ballots.

Evans, a Smyrna lawmaker who is white, also has designs on winning over progressives along with rebuilding a tattered coalition of working-class and suburban voters who have steadily flocked to the GOP.

The intraparty battle reached an early flashpoint last week when protesters shouted down Evans at a progressive conference in Atlanta, chanting “support black women” and “trust black women” until she abandoned the stage. Pressed to rebuke the demonstration, Abrams said she would not “condemn peaceful protest” she said aimed to give voice to marginalized black women.

The two have already carved up loyalties within the party. Abrams has locked down support from U.S. Rep. John Lewis, another civil rights leader, as well as Emily’s List and a host of progressive groups. Evans has the endorsement of former Gov. Roy Barnes and a lengthy list of African-American state legislators.

Lowery, 95, is one of the greatest surviving voices of the Civil Rights era and has long played a prominent role in Georgia politics. He recently endorsed Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell for mayor, giving him a boost in a November race that could be highly fractured along racial lines.

In a statement, Lowery called Abrams a resilient politician whose “life’s work is informed by her dedication to helping others.”

“A Georgia that Stacey Abrams leads will be our Georgia – one where people are empowered to speak up and take action in the face of injustice,” he said.

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