LEXINGTON, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina is one of the few states that officially observe Confederate Memorial Day, and only eight of its 46 counties also give their government workers paid leave for the day each year.
A survey of all 46 counties by The State newspaper determined that these counties will close in observance of the holiday: Allendale, Anderson, Cherokee, Colleton, Dillon, McCormick and Oconee. Of the counties participating, only Allendale has a largely African American population.
The first shots of the Civil War were fired in South Carolina, and the state’s official declaration justifying secession cited the “hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding states to the institution of slavery” as an immediate cause.
But Irmo councilman Barry Walker, one of the few African American local government leaders in Lexington County, said he sees the holiday as a celebration of Southern heritage, not a state-mandated sanctioning of a racist past.
“I mean, hell, it’s a day off,” he said. “I’m for taking a day off anytime I can get it.”
Walker, who is running for mayor, said he may use the day to revisit some historical sites.
The Civil War lives on at the state capitol. Though the Confederate flag was removed following the massacre at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston in 2015, the building is surrounded by statues of Confederate generals and soldiers. The grounds also feature statues of slave owners and a monument honoring the “father of gynecology,” who performed experiments on enslaved women.
Other states observing Confederate Memorial Day are Alabama, Mississippi and North Carolina. Not all celebrate it on the same day. Georgia, where the holiday is reported to have started, removed Confederate Memorial Day from its legal holidays list and replaced it with the generic “State Holiday.”
Joseph Alley, a former Methodist minister whose family has direct ties to the Civil War, said the holiday should come to an end.
“The past needs to be put in the past,” he said.
He said his great-grandfather, David Alley, fought for the South, nearly died in prison at Gettysburg, and later helped establish the Confederate relic room in Columbia. Alley said it wasn’t until he gained awareness as an adult that he realized the implications of his family’s story.
“It was a terrible, terrible time in the history of our country,” Alley said, “and I can thoroughly understand why people of color, who were central to the fight over whether they could be chattel or not, could look back and think, ‘My, my, How could people who call themselves Christians do this?'”