Originally created 08/27/99

S.C. Lawmakers to discuss observing King holiday



COLUMBIA -- South Carolina House members will take up legislation next year to observe a holiday for the late Martin Luther King Jr.

House Speaker David Wilkins, R-Greenville, said the Judiciary Committee will vote on the matter early in next year's session.

"If they pass it out, then the House needs certainly to take a vote on it this year," Wilkins told The (Charleston) Post and Courier.

Sen. Robert Ford, D-Charleston, said Wilkins had promised him that House would vote in January on a measure to adopt an official state holiday. Wilkins said he didn't recall that conversation.

Gov. Jim Hodges, shortly after taking office in January, said he wants South Carolina to observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a permanent state holiday, removing the stigma as the only state without the mandate.

The Senate this year passed a bill providing for the holiday, but only after agreeing to include recognition of Confederate Memorial Day. The House Judiciary Committee refused to take up the bill.

Wilkins said the Judiciary Committee will vote on the bill because Committee Chairman Jim Harrison, R-Columbia, doesn't want to be accused of trying to kill it.

"He's just decided 'let's just take a vote and see what happens,"' Wilkins said.

The lack of success for the King holiday legislation was one of the frustrations embittering Legislative Black Caucus members at the end of the session. Caucus members failed to win approval for a rural economic development program and protested when new legislative manuals were published showing the Confederate flags in the House and Senate Chambers.

Ford said Wilkins' promise came in June in a meeting with Senate leaders trying to build cooperation between caucus members and the House.

"He said that if I showed good faith, he'd show good faith," Ford said.

Ford said he believes the legislation will easily pass the House and get the governor's signature.

Wilkins was less certain of the bill's chances, saying Harrison told him the committee vote will be close.

Ford hopes the new law will be in place in time for the state to recognize the holiday next January.

Rep. Floyd Breeland, D-Charleston, another black legislator, is less optimistic than Ford.

"I'm not going to say no because I always think positive, but we're dealing with some people that we'd probably have to do a lot of converting," Breeland, a black caucus member, said.