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Arizona Readies for First Official King Holiday

January 9, 1993

PHOENIX (AP) _ Arizona is set to emerge from two decades of conflict, embarrassment and a boycott championed by Stevie Wonder when it celebrates its first official Martin Luther King Jr. holiday this month.

Wonder will be on hand and might even sing.

Arizona voters approved the holiday in November, making New Hampshire the only state without a holiday specifically honoring King, although it does celebrate Civil Rights Day on the same day.

″This will be the first time it’s a celebration instead of a celebration- protest,″ said the Rev. Warren Stewart, pastor of the Institutional Baptist Church in Phoenix and a longtime King holiday supporter.

The biggest celebrations will be in Phoenix, where thousands were expected to attend a city-sponsored prayer breakfast on Friday.

Wonder was scheduled to attend, along with Rosa Parks, whose refusal to give up her seat and move to the back of the bus triggered a 1955 boycott in Montgomery, Ala.

A march from downtown to the state Capitol on Jan. 18, the date of the holiday this year, also was expected to draw thousands. Rallies, prayer vigils and concerts were planned by cities, churches and schools across Arizona.

Although most of state government will close for the holiday, it will be a work day for lawmakers and their staffs.

But House Speaker Mark Killian, a Republican, said the holiday won’t be ignored by legislators. Routine committee hearings will be canceled so members can attend the King Day rally and other events, he said.

Phoenix will hold its King Day breakfast at the downtown America West Arena, the new 20,000-seat arena where the pro basketball Phoenix Suns play.

Rose Newsome of the Phoenix Equal Opportunity Department, which is organizing the event, said more than 500 singers and dancers will perform. Dozens of celebrities and civil rights leaders also were scheduled to attend.

″There will be speeches, too, but the cornerstone will be a tribute to Stevie Wonder and Mrs. Parks, and the entertainment,″ Newsome said. Tickets cost $20 per person.

Wonder was among the first entertainers to boycott Arizona over its failure to enact a King holiday. Organizers hoped he would mark his return with a song. ″It’s not set in stone if he’ll perform or not,″ said Fatima Halim, another event coordinator. ″But we’re hoping he will and we’ll be prepared if he does.″

Approval of the holiday by 61 percent of voters on Nov. 3 came two years after Arizona voters rejected two holiday measures, reinforcing the boycott and costing the state the 1993 Super Bowl and an estimated $300 million in lost tourism and convention spending.

Wonder said after a November 1986 concert in Tucson that he would not return to Arizona if then-Gov. Evan Mecham rescinded the King holiday established by an executive order from Mecham’s predecessor.

Mecham overturned the executive order, questioning its constitutionality, and Wonder kept his word by staying away.

Most major Arizona cities have celebrated King Day since it became a federal holiday in 1985. The march from downtown Phoenix to the Capitol has become an annual tradition. As many as 15,000 people have marched in past years, gathering in a park across the street from the Capitol for a daylong rally.

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