Nov 1983: Pres. Regan signs legislation creating national holiday for M.L. King Jr.
King holiday finally official WASHINGTON (AP) With Martin Luther King's widow at his side, President Reagan signed legislation legislation yesterday he once opposed that honors the slain civil rights leader with a national holiday each year. Reagan said King had "stirred our nation to the very depths of its soul" in battling racial discrimination. Congressional leaders and veterans veterans of the civil rights movement, including Jesse Jackson, the Rev. Ralph Abernathy and Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, filled the Rose Garden for the signing ceremony. ceremony. The proceedings climaxed as the crowd softly sang, "We Shall Overcome" Overcome" the anthem of King's nonviolent crusade against segregation. segregation. His widow, Coretta Scott King, told the crowd, "America is a more democratic nation, a more just nation, nation, a more peaceful nation because because Martin Luther King became her pre-eminent pre-eminent pre-eminent non-violent non-violent non-violent commander." commander." While saying the nation had made huge strides in civil rights, Reagan declared, "traces of bigotry still mar America." He said King's holiday should serve as a reminder to follow the principles that King espoused: "Thou shalt love thy God with all they heart and thy shall love thy neighbor as thyself." Recalling King's historic address to 250,000 people at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, at the height of civil rights battles, Reagan said: "If American history grows from two centuries to 20, his words that day will never be forgotten: 'I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.' brotherhood.' " . The legislation makes the third Monday in January a legal public holiday, beginning in January 1986. For the day of the signing ceremony, ceremony, at least, civil rights leaders put aside their policy differences with the administration and their anger over Reagan's earlier opposition opposition to honoring him with a national national holiday. "Well, we've all had high and low r Coretta Scott King, left, watched making Dr. Martin Luther King's moments and this is one of his high moments," said Jackson, an outspoken outspoken Reagan critic and newly announced candidate for the Democratic Democratic presidential nomination. Jackson said the only thing that mattered was Reagan's signature on the bill. "The effect is that the civil rights movement and its place in American American history is institutionalized, and that's very signficant," Jackson said. Reagan originally had expressed concern over the cost of honoring King (w;ith a national holiday, and rmmr -rasa -rasa , , ; J" ' V.j yesterday as President Reagan signed a bill birthday a national holiday. said he would have preferred a day of recognition. At a news conference Oct. 19, Reagan said he decided to sign the legislation "since they (Congress) seem bent on making it a national holiday." At that same session, Reagan Reagan publicly speculated on whether whether secret FBI files would show that King was a communist sympathizer. sympathizer. For that remark, the president president later apologized to Mrs. King. Reagan also wrote former New Hampshire Gov. Meldrim Thomson that the public's perception of King was "based on an image, not reality." Mrs. King told reporters she had accepted Reagan's apology for his news conference remark. As for his letter to Thomson, she said, "I am not questioning motives at this point. I think we have to accept what people say and then we watch what they do." White House deputy press secretary secretary Larry Speakes noted Reagan's apology to Mrs. King and said, "I don't think a day like today calls for discussion from us on that kind of controversy. I honestly don't see how you can add any more controversy controversy to this."