Last year, 10 S.C. African-Americans were shot and killed in tragedies that reverberated across the country – one by a white police officer, the others by an avowed racist.
This year, lawmakers are grappling with an S.C. Supreme Court order to fix the state’s impoverished, rural schools.
Last year’s tragedies and this year’s challenges both will be on the stage at Monday’s King Day at the Dome rally. The rally’s focus will be on the state’s ongoing education challenges. But the day also will mark a new era for the event honoring the slain civil rights leader.
For the first time since King Day at the Dome was started in 2000 in protest of the Confederate flag flying on the State House dome, marchers will rally at the capitol without the divisive banner casting its shadow.
In the wake of the slaying of nine African-Americans during a Bible study in Charleston, state lawmakers removed the flag, seen in pictures with the accused killer online.
But some say the flag’s legacies live on – in the form of the state’s neglected public schools.
The state should “do what was asked of us in the Brown (v. Board of Education school desegregation) decision,” said Vince Ford, the S.C. NAACP’s state education chair, who will speak at Monday’s rally.
It’s time, Ford added, “to do this right. We've analyzed this. We've discussed it. We've spent a lot of time in committees. We've got to bring this to some level of action.”
Lawmakers’ focus on education has picked up since 2014, when the state Supreme Court said the state’s schools are unconstitutional because they do not provide students with an adequate education, especially in impoverished, rural school districts.
For example, Ford said he liked Gov. Nikki Haley’s most recent plan, announced Wednesday, to help districts renovate or build schools and recruit teachers to rural districts where turnover is high.
“South Carolina, just like other states, has to decide. What is it that we want? And how quickly do we want to get there?” said Ford, a Richland 1 school board member since 1992, the year before 30 rural school districts sued the state for more money, saying they did not have enough to educate students.
Some longtime advocates of change say the slow progress on that lawsuit has been disappointing.
“We are not far from where we were 50 years ago,” said S.C. NAACP president Lonnie Randolph, referring to the civil rights movement that forced the desegregation of S.C. public schools. “I went to those (segregated) schools every day,” he said. “We still have the vestiges of that today, where people don’t think that all children can learn.”
King Day at the Dome
If you go
8:30 a.m. – Prayer service, Zion Baptist Church, 801 Washington St., Columbia
9:30 a.m. – March to State House starts at Zion Baptist
10:15 a.m. – Rally for Statewide Education Equity at the State House, Main and Gervais streets