Santa Ana, which has the largest population of blacks of any city in Orange County, for the first time will join two other cities in the county in observing the 59th anniversary of the birth of Martin Luther King Jr.
Of Orange County's 26 cities, only Irvine and Huntington Beach had previously honored the birthday of the slain civil rights leader since it first became a federal holiday in 1986.
On Monday, the official federal holiday commemorating King's birthday, all three cities will close their offices, giving their employees a holiday.
The observance in Santa Ana ends a controversy that began two years ago, when religious leaders of Orange County's black community urged city officials to participate in celebrating the holiday by closing city offices.
In 1986, leaders of the Interdenominational Ministers Alliance, which represented 27 black churches in the county, threatened to boycott the city's Black History parade, to hold a rally at City Hall and to recall the City Council for failing to recognize the holiday.
Part of Union Contract
They dropped those threats and agreed to work with the city to establish a holiday the following year after city officials pointed out that holidays must be decided by employees during contract negotiations with local unions.
Black leaders were disappointed again in 1987, however, when city officials, who again cited contract negotiation problems, failed to designate the holiday.
"It was something we were interested in doing last year, but we weren't able to do," City Manager David N. Ream said.
Sherly Dodd, treasurer of the Santa Ana City Employees Assn., which had asked the city to declare King's birthday a city holiday in 1986, said Wednesday, "We're happy about it."
Dodd said the city had "wanted us to give up a floating holiday or sick leave in exchange" for the holiday honoring King. Employees, however, refused to give up one holiday in exchange for another, she said.
Decided in December
The 570-member association, which is affiliated with the Service Employees International Union, reached an agreement with the city last December to recognize King's birthday as a regular holiday, Dodd said.
When asked about the agreement, Ream said, "It was one of the things we made sure was included in this year's city contract."
Ream said he did not know how much the holiday would cost the city.
The Rev. John Nix-McReynolds, secretary of the Baptist Ministers Conference Fellowship of Orange County, said Wednesday that the significance of King's work went beyond Santa Ana, where 8,200 of the county's 30,000 blacks live, and that the holiday was important for all Americans, not just blacks.
"People should recognize Martin King by what he means to all Americans no matter what color," Nix-McReynolds said. "Dr. King was an American, and what he fought for, and what he struggled for, was not a black cause, but an American cause."
All public universities and colleges in Orange County will be closed Monday, except North County College, which will be open both Friday and Monday.
Schools in the Buena Park, Centralia, La Habra, Brea-Olinda, Laguna Beach, Newport-Mesa and Tustin districts will close Friday. All other school districts will observe the holiday Monday, except Los Alamitos Unified, which will be closed Friday for a staff development day and Monday for the holiday.
All banks and post offices will be closed Monday.