Planning first national King Day celebration

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Coretta Scott King is traveling across the United States these days inviting Americans to join her next Jan. 20 in the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. ``I want the first national celebration of Martin's birthday to be a day of unity,'' Dr. King's widow said as she visited Boston recently.

``This holiday will be a coming together for Americans, the spirit that Martin lived for. Americans will rededicate themselves to the principles of nonviolence by which Martin lived,'' she said.

A week-long celebration is planned Jan. 12-20, featuring a march and rally led by Mrs. King in Atlanta, Dr. King's birthplace, and the dedication of a bust of Dr. King in the rotunda of the US Capitol in Washington.

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Mrs. King is chairman of a 31-member King Federal Holiday Commission, charged by President Reagan to make the holiday ``a celebration of freedom and justice which will unite all our citizens.'' The Holiday theme will be ``Living the Dream.''

The commission is cosponsoring the first national legal observance of Dr. King's birthday together with the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta.

At the commission's most recent meeting, Mrs. King was the first person to sign ``The Living the Dream Pledge,'' a commitment to live Dr. King's dream ``by loving, not hating; showing understanding, not anger; making peace, not war.''

Among those signing the pledge were Senate majority leader Robert Dole (R) of Kansas and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts. The US Information Agency will distribute pledge cards for people to sign around the world.

On her tour Mrs. King lists three goals:

That each state observe King Day on the third Monday of January each year, the federal holiday. More than 30 states have agreed to do so, she says. Many states already celebrate Dr. King's birthday.

That each state be encouraged to set up its own King holiday commission to ``promote widespread public participation in the activities and ceremonies of the day.''

That people support the King Center in Atlanta by helping it establish a $13.5 million endowment.

Mrs. King is president of the center, which conducts a national scholarship and educational program, operates as a community and national civic center, and promotes principles of nonviolent change as advocated by Dr. King.

While in Boston Mrs. King ``fondly'' recalled her years spent in the Hub in the early 1950s. She met her husband here. She heard him preach a sermon, ``The Dimensions of a Complete Life,'' at Twelfth Baptist Church, that earned him the pastorate of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala.

Thus began a journey that propelled Dr. King to the leadership of the Montgomery bus boycott, to the championship of civil rights through nonviolent civil disobedience, and to the acceptance of a Nobel Peace Prize.

To commemorate those early years in Boston, Mrs. King attended two local celebrations, the 145th anniversary of Twelfth Baptist Church, which traces its origin to the African Meeting House in 1805, and the 75th anniversary of the Boston branch (the nation's oldest) of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

``Martin first tested his civil rights wings with the NAACP,'' she said. ``He preached at Twelfth Baptist often, and I sang there.''

In those days Mrs. King was a student at the New England Conservatory of Music, and King was a doctoral student at the Boston University School of Theology.

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