Commission Planning King Birthday Holiday Sworn In
ATLANTA (AP) _ A judge once denied entrance to law school because he is black gave the oath of office Monday to commissioners who will plan observance of Martin Luther King Jr. day as the first federal holiday honoring a black American.
U.S. District Judge Horace Ward swore in members of the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday Commission during a ceremony in the auditorium of the Freedom Hall complex built in memory of the slain civil rights leader and Baptist minister.
King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, will serve as chairman of the commission, which will go out of existence next year after planning and staging the first observance of the King holiday on Jan. 20, 1986.
″We must see that Martin’s day is a holiday to honor, through him, the achievements of all black people of this nation who have struggled over the years for racial and social and political justice,″ Mrs. King told the crowd of about 300 at the swearing-in ceremony.
Twenty-one of the 31 commission members, including Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, D-S.C., Illinois Gov. James Thompson and entertainer Stevie Wonder, were on hand for the ceremony. The commission held its first meeting later Monday.
Legislation establishing the third Monday in January as a national holiday honoring King was passed by Congress last year and signed into law in November by President Reagan.
Meanwhile, communities around the nation were holding marches, prayer meetings and other events to honor King. In Alabama, the scene of many of the civil rights demonstrations led by King, the activities included a Selma-to- Atlanta relay run.
Rodger Porter, director of the White House Office of Policy Development, presided at the Atlanta swearing-in ceremony and read a message in which Reagan urged the commission to ″plan a celebration of freedom and justice that will unite all our citizens.″
Sen. Mack Mattingly, R-Ga., said the annual observance of the King holiday will give Americans, black and white, an opportunity to ″mark the distance we have come and set the course for where we have to travel.″
Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., told the gathering that the observance of the holiday illustrates that King, who was assassinated in 1968, did not die in vain.
″The holiday must be more than just another day off. It must be a day, as his life was, of inspiration, hope, love, justice, and, as his wife has said, fairness,″ said Nunn.
The ceremony was part of six days of activities in Atlanta in observance of the birthday of King, who would have been 56 on Tuesday.
During Sunday’s activities, the Rev. Ralph David Abernathy, former president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, was honored with the first Martin Luther King Sr. Minister’s Community Service Award.
The award is given in honor of King’s father, the Rev. Martin Luther King Sr., who died in November after a career as a leader in the civil rights movement.
″I stand here with chills moving all over my body and I am fighting to hold back the tears,″ Abernathy, 58, said. ″I know that Daddy King and Martin ... are looking down on us this afternoon.″
Abernathy’s role in the civil rights movement ranged from leading the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott in 1957 to leading the Poor People’s Campaign, a mass demonstration in the nation’s capital during the summer after King’s death.