GREENVILLE, S.C. -- Rev. Jesse Jackson and a crowd of 500 people showed up at a Greenville County Council meeting Tuesday night as community support for a holiday honoring Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. appears to be growing.
Supporters filled the council's chambers beyond capacity and others watched outside through a glass wall, listening to a speaker set up outside the chambers.
Jackson gave Councilwoman Lottie Gibson a petition he said had nearly 10,000 signatures in support of the holiday. He used an agenda item, council's proposed ordinance to create a Day of Unity on the Friday after Thanksgiving, to speak for about eight minutes.
"Tonight we urge you to see Dr. King's holiday celebration as yet another opportunity to move toward his legacy. ... Promote the King legacy of reconciliation and reconstruction," Jackson said, ending his speech by leading the crowd, both inside and outside, in singing the civil rights anthem "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Roun'."
An audience member held up a sign questioning why Jackson could break the council's rules on public speaking, which is limited to five minutes per speaker.
Two weeks ago Jackson and a group of about two dozen people staged a sit-in after he said he was not allowed sufficient time to speak before council. About 200 supporters attended that meeting.
Jackson said more people need to come to the next meeting March 4. He plans to return for what would be his fourth appearance before the council since mid-January.
Council Chairwoman Phyllis Henderson told supporters she believes the issue must be resolved and instructed the public safety committee to give her nine names within two weeks for a citizen task force.
"We need to resolve it because the council has to get on with other business," Henderson said. "I think that in the ... spirit of cooperation, we all need to sit down and figure out what we need to do on this. We can't continue to fight about it."
The Public Safety Committee voted two weeks ago to delay its decision on the King holiday and form a task force. Committee chairman Steve Selby said many people have volunteered to serve on the task force.
The Baptist Ministers Fellowship organized prayer and gospels on the sidewalks of county square hours before the meeting. The 120-minister fellowship had already prepared a resolution expressing their disapproval and disappointment in the council's refusal to institute the holiday.
Councilwoman Xanthene Norris introduced a motion last October to observe the King holiday on the third Monday in January. Currently employees have the option of taking their floating holiday on the King holiday.
Council Vice Chairman Scott Case said after the meeting he thinks the floating holiday is better alternative for celebrating civil rights.
"There is no debate over Dr. Martin Luther King's contribution to civil rights," he said. "The debate that is being had is over the way in which civil rights in celebrated."
A House subcommittee approved a bill co-sponsored by Greenville Democrats Rep. Fletcher Smith and Rep. Karl Allen last week that would require counties to give employees a paid holiday the third Monday in January honoring the slain civil rights leader.
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