Buffalo, N.Y., leaders try to avert racial confrontation on 'King Day'

In recent years observance of the birthday of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has become a dual event: commemoration of his leadership of the civil rights movement in the 1960s and demonstrations seeking to have Jan. 15 declared a national holiday.

This year, as usual, the major event will be in Washington, D.C., where Dr. King delivered his memorable "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963. Recording artist Stevie Wonder will lead a march on behalf of making King the first black person to be honored in the US with a national holiday. Busloads of demonstrators from nearly 100 communities will participate.

Other activities around the country on Jan. 15 will be designed to promote the same goal.

But in racially troubled Buffalo, N.Y., it could be a day of confrontation. In recent months seven black men have been murdered by a white assailant, and the community is tense. Mayor James Griffin, the local Black Leaders Forum, and members of the white community plan a "peace march" on Dr. King's birthday.

At the same time, two groups with conflicting aims are planning rallies in front of City Hall -- local American Nazis and a left-wing civil rights organization called the Martin Luther King Day Memorial Rally Coalition. Both have been denied permits, but say they will rally anyway.

The Buffalo Nazis announced a month ago that they would hold a "write power" rally Jan. 15.

A member of the opposing coalition said: "The Nazi party has openly applauded the murderer of black people as the 'great white hunter.' We refuse to allow Dr. King's birthday or any other day to be disgraced by a handful of racist thugs."

"These outsiders can stir up a lot of trouble and then leave the mess here for us to clean up," said a spokesman for the Black Leadership Forum.

In Atlanta, Dr. King's birthplace, a march that has become an annual tradition will climax a five-day observance sponsored by the Martin Luther King Jr. Center of Non-Violent Social Change.

King Day is a holiday in 15 states -- Connecticut, florida, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and South Carolina.

A national King holiday almost became a reality last year, but a provision attached to the House version of the bill, making the nearest Sunday the holiday , upset the proposal's sponsors. "This would have been no real holiday at all," said a sponsor of the bill. "We s hall try again in the 97th Congress."

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