DORCHESTER — We're going to war, Sons of Confederate Veterans member Dickie Phalen had said half-teasing. But this time, the war was as civil as the wounds are raw.
About a dozen local chapter members of the SCV and United Daughters of the Confederacy and supporters showed up Tuesday night at the Dorchester District 4 board meeting to protest that students are not given a holiday on Confederate Memorial Day.
It was another offensive in a campaign that last year brought more than 20 supporters out to the board meeting.
Group members say it's a matter of heritage and teaching history. But it rubs against racial tensions that still flare in another legacy from that time, over controversies like removing the Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse.
Three SCV members spoke, two who came from Summerville and Ridgeland "camps," or chapters, to support the local camp. Only one wore any insignia, a commander's badge on a suit pocket.
"All we are asking is to celebrate a state holiday on May 10," said Phalen, of the local SCV chapter.
The room sat still. Board members listened quietly or scribbled quietly. When the speakers were done, Kenneth Jenkins, board chairman, pointedly asked Peggy Phalen, Dickie's mother, if the career school where she is a board member had put the holiday on its calendar.
It had not.
Few school districts in the state observe the holiday, even though the state has recognized it. In the three counties around Charleston, only Berkeley's school district has observed it.
The SCV and other heritage groups have pushed to change that. But the issue is volatile enough that when an SCV member earlier this month asked the Berkeley board to observe the holiday this year, even though the date falls on a weekend, a black school board member characterized it as a slap in the face.
Dorchester 4 runs public schools in the rural northern end of the county. It's a place of practicalities: The board meeting Monday was held in the Harleyville-Ridgeville Elementary School library and the Pledge of Allegiance was led by two of the school's students.
The district has nearly 3,000 students and two of every three are black. Three of its five board members are black.
The council's divide on the holiday in 2008 broke on racial lines. But individual board members don't completely agree, maybe even with themselves, on this one. Last year, the board said it would look into establishing the holiday, working with Summerville's Dorchester District 2, Jenkins said. That district doesn't observe the holiday.
This year, board member Cheryl Mushrush, who is white, made a motion that died for lack of a second. Jenkins said the May 10 date conflicts with testing.
But James Hodges, who is black, said, "I think we can resolve this." He asked the calendar committee to see if there's a date that could be agreed on. The question will be decided at a special meeting within two weeks.
"I hate to say it, but it basically boils down to reverse discrimination. Everybody who was our ancestor should be honored, especially those who fought and died gallantly for a cause they believed in," Dickie Phalen had said before the meeting.
He came away encouraged.
"As long as we get it in May and it's a public holiday, that's great," he said.