Confederate memorial day cost debated
Wednesday, May. 11, 2011
Confederate memorial day cost debated
Some to call for abolishing state funding for holiday, while others take time to honor war dead
Commemorating the soldiers who died defending the Stars and Bars cost South Carolina taxpayers about $10 million Tuesday.
That’s because Confederate Memorial Day is one of 13 paid holidays for the state’s 60,000-plus employees, according to data from the S.C. Budget and Control Board.
The General Assembly also was recessed for the day.
During a challenging budget year that has seen a host of public service cuts, at least one critic called the holiday a waste of public money that would be better used on education, health care or job creation.
“Our taxpayer money is funding a holiday for our oppressors’ descendants,” said Dot Scott, president of the Charleston chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. “It’s gotta go.”
Gov. Nikki Haley, who has made it her administration’s mission to root out government waste, disagreed.
“Reopening this debate (will) be a distraction that will not create one job or educate one child,” Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey said in a statement.
May 10 is the day when iconic Southern Gen. Stonewall Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson died in 1863 after he was wounded by Southern troops at Chancellorsville. Ironically, it’s also the day when Union troops finally captured fleeing Southern President Jefferson Davis in Georgia in 1865 after the war ended.
Some residents marked the occasion Tuesday at events in the state.
Carolyn Slay and Jane Freeman placed flags on Southern graves in the Soldiers Ground at Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston. The United Daughters of the Confederacy planned a memorial program later in the day.
“We’re honoring them for standing up for their rights and defending their homeland,” Slay, 69, said. “It’s very special to us and ingrained in us.”
“To tell the true story of the South is one of our goals,” Freeman added. “Since the North won, the events kind of got swung to one side.”
A short while later, across the Cooper River in Mount Pleasant, three Confederate re-enactors fired a rifle salute. Later a bugler sounded taps at a ceremony at a small Confederate graveyard.
A roll of those who died in the war from the surrounding area was read and the group of about 30 people prayed.
“We honor our ancestors and that’s why we’re here,” said Herb Antley, the chaplain of the local camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. He said people are still interested in such events.
“It’s just not as pronounced as it used to be. When I was a young boy, schools were out on Confederate Memorial Day and they are not now. But it is a state holiday,” he said. “We are happy there are people who care. I have many ancestors who fought in the war — all four of my great-grandfathers.”“
Scott, of the NAACP, said she has no problem with people celebrating their Confederate heritage. But, she said, it shouldn’t be a state holiday.
But only about a quarter of the state’s counties observe the day with a holiday — locally, only Lexington County does — and no public school districts were closed.
South Carolina is one of four states in the South to celebrate Confederate Memorial Day in honor of Confederate soldiers who died during the Civil War, which marks its 150th anniversary this year. The other states that commemorate the day as a legal, paid holiday for state employees are Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi, which all celebrate on April 25.
S.C. Sen. Robert Ford, a Charleston Democrat who is black, sponsored a bill that became law in 2000 to make Confederate Memorial Day a state holiday. The bill also made Martin Luther King Jr. Day a state holiday.