Day of Tributes Across Nation Honors King

Times Staff Writer

With festive parades, solemn vigils, passionate speeches and a glittering musical extravaganza, the United States on Monday marked the first national holiday in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the martyred civil rights leader whose dream of freedom and justice has inspired millions of Americans.

Vice President George Bush flew to Atlanta, King's birthplace and the focal point of the nationwide holiday activities, for a wreath-laying ceremony at King's white-marble tomb and an ecumenical service at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King once served as co-pastor.

'Love Has Overcome'

"In his lifetime, many criticized Martin Luther King's dedication to nonviolence," Bush said. "They said it won't work, they said it was impractical. Well, I say that America today bears witness that Dr. King's faith in America was true faith. Love has overcome hate."

During the interfaith service, South African Bishop Desmond Tutu--like King, a Nobel Peace Prize winner--was awarded the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Nonviolent Peace Prize by King's widow, Coretta.

"I tremble as I stand in the shadow of this great person," Tutu said as he received the gold medal bearing King's likeness. Tutu added that he accepted the award on behalf of his fellow black South Africans, who he said are "peace-loving to a fault" in their struggle against apartheid.

Black Cabinet Member

Among the dignitaries at Ebenezer Baptist were Secretary Samuel R. Pierce Jr. of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, President Reagan's only black Cabinet member; Sens. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), both members of the federal commission overseeing preparations for the national holiday activities; Georgia Gov. Joe Frank Harris and Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young.

In Montgomery, Ala., where King first rose to national prominence as leader of an anti-segregation bus boycott in 1955, hundreds of blacks stood on the steps of the state Capitol where Gov. George C. Wallace had once declared "segregation now, segregation forever" to hear the governor's proclamation honoring King.

Wallace, who was recently released from a hospital, was not present at the ceremony nor were any other state officials. The governor's proclamation was read by his press secretary, Billy Joe Camp.

In Birmingham, Ala., a seven-foot statue of King was unveiled in a park. In the early 1960s, King led a series of demonstrations in the city in the face of fire hoses and police dogs and was once arrested and jailed. The Birmingham protests were a major impetus behind passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Vigil at Motel

In Memphis, Tenn., a vigil was held at the Lorraine Motel, where the charismatic leader was cut down by a sniper's bullet on April 4, 1968, as he stood on the balcony. King had gone to Memphis to lead a demonstration of striking garbage workers.

Under a law enacted by Congress and signed into law by President Reagan three years ago, the third Monday of January is set aside as a federal holiday to honor King's birthday, which actually is Jan. 15.

King's birthday is also a legal holiday in about 30 states, including three that also honor Confederate generals.

The first official observance of King's birthday was not total. All federal offices and many state offices and schools were closed and mail not delivered, but most major businesses, including the stock exchanges, remained open. Many cities reported light traffic, but otherwise business as usual, except for Washington, where work came to a halt.

Students Stay Home

In Louisiana, all 485 students at a black high school in Plaquemines Parish stayed home to protest the school board's refusal to recognize the holiday.

"No one showed up this morning. No one but the teachers," said James Jones, assistant principal at Phoenix High School.

"I feel it was justified," Jones added. "This is a totally black school."

Parades and gatherings honoring King were held in Los Angeles, Washington, Chicago and several other cities, but Atlanta was the scene of perhaps the most spectacular observance.

Under clear skies and a bright sun, hundreds of exuberant marchers, scores of blaring bands and snappy drill teams and floats streamed along downtown Peachtree Street.

300,000 Jam Streets

March organizers estimated that more than 300,000 spectators, most of them black, jammed the streets to watch the parade. In some places they were more than 12 to 15 people deep.

"I think it's beautiful," said Janice Harvey of Atlanta, who accompanied her 4-year-old son, Leonardo. "There's so much happiness and love here. It's really in the spirit of Martin Luther King."

But Bernard Martin, a 32-year-old black Atlantan, said he thought that the parade had "too much hoopla" and was not in keeping with the spirit of King's philosophy.

"We don't need a parade," he said. "We need a march--a march for the man's dream. We should be marching for freedom, for justice, for the oppressed blacks in South Africa."

Constant Theme

Actually, opposition to the South African government's apartheid policies of racial segregation were a constant theme during the nine days of activities honoring King's birthday in Atlanta, with the entire day before the march devoted to an anti-apartheid conference.

During the ecumenical service Monday, Bush said that "the President and I have repeatedly stated our abhorrence to apartheid in South Africa.

"On behalf of the American people here today, in this sacred place, I call again for the end to apartheid. To the government of South Africa, I say here today, it's time to take bold, dramatic steps to demonstrate your own commitment to reform. The time for delay is past."

Remain Unconvinced

Bush's remarks received a thunderous ovation, but several members of the audience remained unconvinced of his sincerity.

"I don't feel the realness of what he said," said Shirley A. Hider, 47, a housewife and member of Ebenezer Baptist Church. "It just went in one ear and out the other, because I know what the Reagan Administration stands for, and it's different from what he said."

Earlier in the day, the Rev. Jesse Jackson charged that "the jury is not in yet" on whether the government was behind King's assassination. Appearing on the "CBS Morning News," Jackson said from New Orleans: "We know he was character assassinated by our government. As to whether or not he was physically assassinated by them, the question is still out. I mean the jury is not in yet on that."

In Washington, FBI duty officer Jeff Maynard and Justice Department spokesman Terry Eastland said they would have no comment on Jackson's remarks. James Earl Ray received a 99-year sentence after pleading guilty to the assassination. Ray now contends that he was coerced into pleading guilty.

Equality Urged

After the wreath-laying ceremony at King's tomb, the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference challenged the nation to move forward toward complete racial equality.

"In the name of Martin, we ain't going back," said the Rev. Joseph Lowery, who heads the organization founded by King. "We've come too far, we've worked too strenuously, we've marched too long, we've prayed too hard, we've wept too bitterly, we've bled too profusely and we've died too young."

In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar announced Monday that he had accepted a request by African delegates to make King's birthday a U.N. holiday, beginning next year. It will replace one of nine holidays now observed by the U.N. staff.

Emotional Tribute

About 2,000 people gathered at the Washington Convention Center for an emotional tribute. Noting that the District of Columbia had celebrated the holiday since 1969, council member Polly Shackleton exclaimed: "At long last, the federal government has caught up with us."

About 5,000 people came to Convention Hall in Philadelphia for an ecumenical service.

Harry Belafonte and Bill Cosby were co-hosts Monday night for a three-city televised musical celebration. The segment at New York's Radio City Music Hall was headlined by Ashford & Simpson, Ruben Blades, Tito Puente, Bette Midler, Billy Joel and Al Jarreau.

In Washington's Kennedy Center, Bob Dylan was joined by Stevie Wonder, Eddie Murphy and Quincy Jones; at the Atlanta Civic Center, Mrs. King, Joan Baez, Patti LaBelle and Kenny Loggins were among the expected celebrities.

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