In an effort to force the City of Glendale to recognize the deeds of the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., a city tree trimmer last week refused to accept a five-year municipal service pin at the city's employee-awards presentation.
Craig Steward, 36, said at the City Hall ceremony that he found it an "agonizing moral and ethical irony" that the city would recognize "my minuscule achievement of completing five years of service . . . and not likewise officially recognize the life, works and death of Martin Luther King." King, the civil rights leader who won the Nobel Peace Prize, was assassinated in 1968.
Glendale did not hold a formal ceremony honoring King on his birthday, Jan. 15, which was celebrated for the first time this year as a federal holiday. It has been a state holiday for three years.
City officials said Steward's refusal of his award was the first time a city employee had turned down a service pin for ethical or religious reasons.
Twenty other city employees and members of their families attended the ceremony in council chambers last Thursday. Four members of the audience walked out when Steward began reading his prepared statement. They could not be reached later for comment.
Steward said that, because Glendale has so few black residents--they constitute less than 1% of the city's 150,000 population--the council probably thought the holiday "was not of popular appeal."
Some critics of Steward's action said he was merely seeking an extra paid day off on King's birthday. But Steward, who is white, said he would accept his service pin if the city merely issues some type of proclamation in honor of the civil rights activist, without declaring King's birthday a paid holiday.
Others said the pin ceremony was the wrong time and place for Steward to raise the issue.
"We recognize freedom of speech, but I think that discussion should be brought up in a City Council meeting," said John F. Hoffman, director of personnel and employee relations.
King is the first modern-day American to be honored with a national holiday.
Although the city did not recognize a holiday honoring King, at the Jan. 14 City Council meeting, Councilwoman Ginger Bremberg made a statement acknowledging King's "contributions . . . to this great country of ours."
When asked last week about Steward's action, Bremberg said: "Mr. Steward is blowing this whole thing way out of proportion."
Bremberg said it would cost the city $300,000 a year to give city employees a day off for King's birthday. However, she and other council members said they would consider voting next year for a proclamation honoring King, as Steward is urging.
City employees have nine paid holidays a year, plus two floating days that city officials said employees can use to celebrate King's birthday.
Steward, despite his protest, said: "I love my job and I love Glendale. It is a jewel of a city."