AIKEN -- Tom Key wore the same rosette near his heart Sunday that his great-grandfather had pinned to his breast more than a century ago when he watched Jefferson Davis' funeral train pass on its way to his final burial in Richmond, Va., the capital of the Confederacy.
Proudly holding a Confederate flag, Mr. Key -- taking part in Aiken County's Confederate Memorial Day ceremony -- expressed deep pride Sunday for his ancestors who fought in the Civil War.
"It is imperative in these perilous times that we strengthen our resolve that the memory of all of the faithful men and women who served the Confederate States of America shall never be forgotten ..." Mr. Key told a cheering crowd. "We must spend the rest of our lives helping to ensure that this country does not forget."
Under a blazing sun, more than 50 people -- some in heavy Confederate clothing -- marched from the Aiken Convention Center to the Confederate Monument in front of the county courthouse. Confederate flags were draped over the monument while a lone trumpeter played Taps from atop the courthouse steps.
"I'm here to honor my Southern heritage," said Stan Weaver, whose great-great-grandfather fought in the war.
Mr. Weaver said he was thrilled to hear that Gov. Jim Hodges signed a bill last week designating May 10 Confederate Memorial Day and a holiday for state workers in South Carolina.
The same legislation also sets up a state holiday named for slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., which has upset some vocal leaders who want the Confederate flag removed from the Statehouse dome in Columbia.
James Gallman, president of the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, objected to the bill. He said Memorial Day is already celebrated the last Monday each May, and he didn't see a need for another one.
"I respect Mr. Gallman's right to say what he believes in, but I would also like Mr. Gallman to respect my right," Mr. Key said. "I was raised to pay respect to those who gave me what I have today."
Although most who attended Sunday were there to honor ancestors who fought for what they believed in, the flag debate was not far from their minds. The state House debate on the flag is scheduled to begin Tuesday.
"I like the idea of a state holiday, but I also want them to keep the flag," Civil War re-enactor Donald Christopaoulo said.
Reach Katie Throne at (803) 279-6895.
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