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King Birthday Recognized In Most States

January 12, 1987

ATLANTA (AP) _ One year after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was memorialized with a federal holiday, official state observances of the slain civil rights leader’s birthday vary widely.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday Commission, which oversees the federal holiday held each year on the third Monday of January, counted 39 states with a state holiday in King’s honor.

But only 11 give employees a paid holiday, said Joe Rubens, a coordinator for the commission in Washington.

Those numbers were reduced to 38 and 10 later Monday when Arizona’s new Republican governor, Evan Mecham, fulfilled a campaign pledge today and formally rescinded that state’s paid holiday. It was created last summer by executive order of his Democratic predecessor, Bruce Babbitt, when the idea fell short by one vote in the Legislature.

Mecham proposed that the Legislature instead schedule a referendum on the holiday in the next general election, ″to let the court of last resort, the people, make that decision.″

Some states let employees take the day off without pay or in exchange for a paid holiday. Other states merely encourage employees to take note of King’s work during the day.

The first federal observance, a paid holiday, was held last year. This year’s holiday is scheduled for Jan. 19 although King actually was born Jan. 15, 1929. The Atlanta native was assassinated April 4, 1968.

Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Carolina, North Dakota, Texas, Virginia and Wyoming do not have a King holiday, said Norris Garnett, commission spokesman.

Mississippi, listed by the commission as having a King holiday, does not actually have a statewide holiday, but seven Mississippi cities give employees the day off.

King’s home state of Georgia gives employees the day off with pay.

Virginia, listed among the commission’s no-holiday states, has a holiday Jan. 15 for Southern heroes during which King is honored along with Confederate stalwarts Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.

New Mexico in 1983 designated the second Sunday in January as King’s birthday, but the law provides only that the day shall be observed ″in such efforts and undertakings as shall be in harmony with the general character of the day so established.″

Garnett said the commission is lobbying to get all states to declare a King holiday on the same day as the federal observance. Most of the state with a holiday observe it on the third Monday in January, but some do it on Jan. 15.

The commission also has urged unions to work toward getting companies to recognize the King holiday, he said.

A major argument given by opponents of a King holiday has been the expense of closing goverment offices.

When establishment of a King holiday was debated in 1984 in Georgia, the state university system estimated it would cost $1 million to give employees the day off each year.

Earlier this month, Coretta Scott King, King’s widow, said she hopes the nation is on the verge of a new tradition with the King holiday.

″We expect this new American tradition will become a moral force, a model for the world,″ she said. ″No other holiday in American history has ever been so demanding.″

Mrs. King asked Americans to guard against making the day a ″black holiday.″

″Martin’s life represented a triumph of all peoples ... joined together in a common struggle for justice and righteousness,″ she said.

The 35-member King holiday commission, chaired by Mrs. King, includes such figures as Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., Rep. Jack Kemp, R-N.Y., baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth and musician Stevie Wonder.