South Carolina today became the last state in the nation to honor the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. with a statewide holiday despite opposition from the NAACP to a compromise designating May 10 as Confederate Memorial Day.

The NAACP had urged Gov. Jim Hodges (D) to veto the bill because it honors the slain civil rights leader while memorializing Civil War soldiers who fought and died to retain slavery. The bill also was opposed by conservative Republicans who have been reluctant to lower a Confederate battle flag flying over the Statehouse.

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.

"If I had not signed this bill, it might have been five or 10 years before we had a King holiday, and that's simply not acceptable to me," Hodges said.

NAACP state chapter President James Gallman declined an invitation to attend the signing, and in a letter to the governor said South Carolina, the first state to secede from the Union before the Civil War, "clings to its racist past." Lt. Gov. Bob Peeler was the only Republican at the ceremony.

Before today, state employees could choose to take the day off, or one of three Confederate-related holidays.

The Legislature approved the bill last month after a bitter fight in the Republican-controlled House. The bill failed on its first try and was approved only after lawmakers attached amendments that protected Confederate monuments and proclaimed that the Confederate flag is not a racist symbol.

As early as next week, the House could begin debate on a bill that would remove the flag and fly a different Confederate military banner at a monument on Statehouse grounds that honors Confederate soldiers. The bill has passed the Senate.