Confederate Memorial Day is a mandatory state holiday in South Carolina, but you wouldn’t know it from the classrooms.
Only one of the state’s 85 school districts closed Wednesday in observation of the holiday, the product of a legislative compromise that also created a permanent Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
“When it’s mandatory, they should observe it,” said Glenn McConnell, the president pro tem of the state Senate and a Civil War re-enactor. “When they start picking and choosing holidays, it creates controversy.”
Few districts have observed the day since 2000, when legislators set aside May 10 to mark the death of Confederate commander Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and the capture of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
The holiday falls during the week of state-mandated standardized testing. Many districts also don’t observe other holidays, such as Veterans Day and federal Memorial Day, because the state requires 180 days of instruction.
This year only Berkeley County School District closed for the holiday. The county’s schools have taken the holiday since August 2000 after requests from the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said former school board Chairwoman Frances Brewer.
All state agencies and some county offices were closed, but even some legislators worked through the holiday they created. Only the Senate was off, though House members intend to observe the date in the future.
Other states also honor Confederate soldiers with holidays. Texas, for example, has Confederate Heroes Day on Jan. 19, Gen. Robert E. Lee’s birthday.
‘Bring the state together’
But spokeswomen for the education departments in Mississippi and Alabama said most school districts there also don’t take the holiday off, citing reasons like standardized testing and local control of the school calendar.
South Carolina state Sen. Robert Ford said he pushed the 2000 compromise through the General Assembly in an effort to “bring the state together.”
“We live in the South. Those people who died have descendants. For us to say to them they don’t have a right to respect their descendants, that’s just crazy,” said Ford, who is black. “The whole thing’s about history and understanding.”
Ford hopes the two holidays will help South Carolinians learn about and respect each other more. But for Lonnie Randolph, president of the state branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Confederacy had nothing to do with respecting people.
“I don’t need a holiday to respect people,” he said. “I don’t have any reason to get happy and say I’m overjoyed for this holiday because it has nothing to do positive in the lives of people who look like I do.”