- The Washington Times - Monday, January 15, 2001

No citywide parades or fancy parties this year.

The District of Columbia will mark the day honoring the birth of Martin Luther King, the apostle of peace and justice whose murder in 1968 set off an orgy of fire and violence, mostly in private and in a few select ceremonies.

Some Washingtonians would like a little fanfare for the man who, as icons before him, begins a slow fade into history, to be remembered, like Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln, as a man of marble rather than flesh and blood.

Fatima Parker, 17, and a student at Benjamin Banneker Academic Senior High, thinks the city should honor King with a bit more pomp.

"I think there should be a gathering on the Mall," said Miss Parker, who was studying with friends at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library.

"D.C. is a city where there is a large African-American population and large Caucasian population, and it's kind of disappointing that there isn't a celebration to bring peace and harmony and bring people together," she said.

A fellow Banneker student, 17-year-old Joy Burgess, said the day should also be a time to reflect on the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize winner's life and give back to the community.

"It's best to do something active. It's best to get involved in something," Miss Burgess said.

Unlike past years, when the federal holiday was marked with parades, speeches and other hoopla, this year's holiday finds itself being overshadowed by the inauguration, leaving the 61 percent black city without any unifying event.

King was born Jan. 15, 1929, and since 1986, his birthday has been observed on the third Monday each January. Probably known best in Washington for the March on Washington and his "I have a Dream" speech given from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, 1963, the civil-rights crusader was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tenn.

The library bearing his name will even be closed something that upset Brenda Bean.

"We should always know why you're celebrating," Ms. Bean said as she walked along Minnesota Avenue NE with a friend. "[The library] should have some type of little things."

Though bands will not be marching up and down the streets of the District, there are some events going on today to honor King.

This morning, Mayor Anthony A. Williams will speak at the "A Day on … Not a Day Off" event at the University of the District of Columbia, presenting President Clinton with the city's annual "Living the Dream" award.

At night, several D.C. Council members and police officers will attend an anti-crime march in the Barney Circle neighborhood in Southeast.

Douglas Surles, who turned 35 yesterday, said that he is glad he will be celebrating his birthday on the holiday, but that he would have liked to see a parade or two marking the occasion.

"Parades would be nice it would bring people together," Mr. Surles said.

Standing in front of God's Universal Kingdom Christian Church in Northeast, where he was attending services, Mr. Surles thinks a parade would help ease racial tension.

"It's come a long way, but it still has a long way to go," Mr. Surles said of the District's racial climate.

Few other cities will hold large public observances.

Those visiting the Martin Luther King Jr. Historic Site and Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta will find a flurry of activity at the place where King gave some of his most famous and fiery speeches behind the church's pulpit.

Hoping to increase interest, site officials and the National Park Service have made numerous improvements to the neighborhood surrounding the site, the church and King's grave. The park service also has started monthly gospel concerts and lectures at the church to draw residents.

The original church became part of the site after the congregation moved to a new building across the street in 1999.

Spearheaded by the King family, the nearly two-decade, $10 million project to revitalize the Sweet Auburn neighborhood has been an effort to turn around an area where many of the buildings had deteriorated to burned-out shells, home to vagrants and crack addicts.

Many of the Queen Anne-style homes that line the block where King was born now boast restored wooden porches and fresh coats of paint. An education center at King's alma mater, Morehouse College, also is being built and should be complete by 2002.

Scheduled ceremonies and observances include:

• 8:30 a.m.-noon. The ambassador from Sierra Leone and D.C. public school students join female professional soccer players, former NBA star Bob Lanier and AmeriCorps volunteers to help paint classrooms and outdoor benches in honor of King.

• 10:30 a.m. Mr. Williams will host a celebration of King's life and legacy at the University of the District of Columbia, Building 46, 4200 Connecticut Ave. NW. He will present Mr. Clinton with the city's annual "Living the Dream" award. Also on hand: Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C. Council Chairman Linda Cropp and the Rev. Jamal Bryant of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Winners of the city's King essay contest will be announced.

• Noon. Ward 8 will host a parade from Birney Elementary School at MLK Avenue and Summer Road SE to the official reviewing stand at 4600 Livingston Road SE.

• 1 p.m. U.W. Clemon, Chief Judge, U.S. District Court, Alabama, will speak at the Washington Inter-Alumni Council of the United Negro College Fund celebration at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, 2660 Woodley Road NW.

• 3 p.m. Montgomery County (Md.) Executive Douglas M. Duncan will participate in the county's annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday celebration at the Activity Center at Bohrer Park, 506 South Frederick Ave., Gaithersburg.

• 7 p.m. Several D.C. Council members and chiefs of local police forces will attend an anti-crime march in the Barney Circle neighborhood at Providence Baptist Church at Kentucky and Potomac avenues SE.

• Evening Mayor Williams and invited dignitaries attend a black-tie gala at the Embassy of South Africa.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.


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