COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) â€” Over NAACP protests, Gov. Jim Hodges signed a bill today giving South Carolina a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
The action makes South Carolina the last state to officially recognize King Day, which had been an optional holiday for state workers.
``Today, the people of South Carolina join together in the spirit of mutual respect,'' Hodges said.
The state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People wanted Hodges to veto the bill, which also establishes a permanent holiday honoring Confederate Memorial Day on May 10.
``We're against tying the two together,'' James Gallman, president of the state chapter, said Sunday. ``And the people we're talking to are also against it.''
The bill was passed amid a related fight over the flying of the Confederate battle flag on the Statehouse dome.
Hodges signed the bill at Rosewood Elementary School, which planted a seedling from the Brown AME Church in Selma, Ala., where King used to preach and where he started his famous march from Selma to Montgomery.
The Democratic governor said lawmakers ``reached out across racial and party lines to forge the compromise that made this day possible.''
Lt. Gov. Bob Peeler was the only Republican at the bill-signing ceremony. House Speaker David Wilkins and Majority Leader Rick Quinn were invited.
Hodges' spokesman, Morton Brilliant, said Sunday night the governor also ``would have preferred a clean bill'' without the Confederate holiday. But if it's a ``choice between all or nothing, he'll take something.''
Gallman said in a letter delivered to Hodges on Saturday that the state would be better off without the bill.
``What a tragic irony this legislation presents for us: a chance to honor the doctrine of brotherhood and acceptance while embracing the most notorious separatist campaign in our Nation's history,'' Gallman wrote.
``I believe that many in South Carolina would join me in concluding that the climate of defiance and mean-spiritedness present in the General Assembly is responsible for this bill,'' he wrote.
The Legislature passed the King holiday bill in April after a bitter fight in the Republican-controlled House.
Besides the MLK debate, lawmakers have struggled with the NAACP's call to remove the Confederate flag from the dome. The Senate has passed a bill that would move the banner to a monument on the Statehouse grounds that honors Confederate soldiers.
The House is set to debate a similar bill.
The NAACP, which has enacted an economic boycott of the state since Jan. 1, is against the Senate's flag proposal.
Opponents say the flag is a symbol of racism and slavery. Supporters say it honors Southern heritage.
Some lawmakers see little to celebrate in a King holiday with the flag fight so prevalent. ``Even a King holiday tied with a Confederate holiday creates mixed emotions,'' said Rep. John Scott, D-Columbia. ``There's no groundswell of celebration in the air.''