In solemn ceremonies, festive marches and lavish musical tributes the United States today observed its first official holiday in honor of the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., the man whose dream brought down the walls of segregation in the South.
It was the first federal holiday ever to honor a black man and it was also observed by 33 of the states. Eleven others observed King's birthday on its actual date last Wednesday, and in some areas where no holiday was called black children made their own by simply staying home from school.
Vice President George Bush flew to Atlanta to join King's widow, Coretta, in laying a wreath at King's white marble tomb, which stands on a circular island in a reflecting pool outside the King Center.
Next door at King's Ebenezer Baptist Church, hundreds packed in to see the King Peace Prize awarded to Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, like King a Nobel laureate. Tutu accepted the award on behalf of his people, "who are peace-loving to a fault."
Rosa Parks Honored
The ceremonies included speeches by Bush, Sens. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Bob Dole (R-Kan.), Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young and others--and there was special recognition of Rosa Parks, the woman whose decision not to sit at the back of the bus gave birth to King's civil rights movement in Montgomery.
In the Alabama capital, blacks and a few whites packed Dexter Avenue King Memorial Church, King's first church, for an interfaith worship service. Then a crowd of 3,000 walked two blocks to the capitol building where the Selma-to-Montgomery march ended almost 21 years ago.
Neither Gov. George C. Wallace, one of King's chief opponents in the 1960s, nor any other state officers appeared at the functions.
Throughout the nation there were marches, rallies, prayer meetings, vigils and gospel-singing jubilees. Television and radio stations broadcast the "I Have a Dream" speech that King delivered to 250,000 people at the foot of the Lincoln Monument in 1963.
Parade in Atlanta
In Atlanta, there was a parade in King's honor featuring nearly 300 units, half a dozen of them military bands whose inclusion aggravated some of his followers. The parade marshals were Rosa Parks, baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth and Japanese philanthropist Ryoichi Sasakawa.
It was 18 years ago that a mule-drawn wagon bore King's body to its grave through the streets of Atlanta.