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King Holiday Commission Going Out of Business; King Center Taking Over

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 14, 1995 – After heroes of the old West saved a town from evil-doers, they rode off into the sunset and left townspeople to pick up the pieces. That's what the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday Commission will do in September 1996.

 

Even though President Clinton extended its life until fiscal 1999, the commission will sunset on Sept. 30, 1996, said executive director Alan Minton. "We're going out of business because the King Center [Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, Inc.] is prepared to take over the duties of the commission sooner than anticipated."

 

The King Center helped create the commission,  headquartered in Atlanta, and has a program and service office in Washington.

 

"Once we get through this holiday, we'll try to determine how to sunset this agency to ensure that what we've done in the past will continue," Minton said. "We're working with other government and private organizations, such as the American Library Association and the Corporation for National Service. Since the King Center helped create the commission, it's a natural transfer of the commission's resources to the center so the same services we offer will be available in the future.  

 

Minton said scheduled 1996 events include the King holiday service partnership, a day of service with local service organizations -- United Way, American Red Cross and the Corporation for National Service.

 

Similar community service programs are being conducted throughout the nation. "Local groups determine what community service is," Minton said. "For example, students at state universities in Utah are doing whatever community service projects they deem necessary to help their community.

 

"Last year, groups in Little Rock [Ark.] gave free health checkups, painted a school, donated blood and worked with shut-ins," Minton said. "In Montana, students helped round up stray herds of cattle. Community service is helping someone in need."

 

DoD officials are encouraging military personnel and civilian employees and their families worldwide to support ceremonies and activities highlighting the King holiday.

 

"On the King Holiday, Help Somebody! Every American Can Make a Difference," is the national theme for this year's King Week observance, Jan. 7-15, 1996. 

 

The theme is in keeping with what King once wrote, "Recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant ... that everybody can be great. Because anybody can serve."

 

The concept of service was at the heart of King's philosophy, which emphasized one of the best ways to achieve peace and civil unity is for people to help others however they can, Minton said.

 

In explaining the theme's meaning, the commission encourages Americans to "open your heart and offer your hands to feed the hungry, house the homeless, care for those with fatal and debilitating diseases, stop the violence and killing, fight drugs and crime, help youth at risk, promote interracial cooperation, justice and peace -- and much, much more.

 

"By doing so, we can change the way we think about ourselves and others; not just for one day, but for the rest of our lives," the theme explanation states.

 

Minton said the commission was created on Nov. 2, 1983, when President Reagan signed legislation designating the third Monday of every January as a federal holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr.

 

Reagan signed legislation creating the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday Commission on Aug. 27, 1984. On May 17, 1989, President Bush signed an act extending the commission through April 20, 1994, with an annual appropriation of $300,000.

 

President Clinton signed into law the King Holiday and Service Act of 1994 on Aug. 23 of that year. The legislation extends the commission through fiscal 1999.

 

"It designates the King holiday to be a day of national service and encourages interracial cooperation and youth anti-violence initiatives," Minton said.

 

The commission was tasked with:

 o Promoting the holiday as an occasion to reflect on the principles of racial equality and nonviolent social change as espoused by Martin Luther King Jr.;

 o Encouraging appropriate ceremonies and activities throughout the United States relating to the King holiday;

 o Providing advice and assistance to federal, state and local governments and to private organizations;

 o Coordinating efforts with Americans of diverse backgrounds and     with private organizations in the observance of the holiday;

 o Promoting national and community service in honor of King; and

 o Promoting the holiday as a day for interracial cooperation and youth anti-violence initiatives.

 

Among a host of other things, the commission serves as a clearinghouse for information and suggesting appropriate ceremonies, events and programs and maintains a speakers bureau. It also encourages community service activities with federal, state and local governments in conjunction with private businesses and industries.

 

Additionally, the commission promotes activities as an American holiday that's inclusive and representative of all races, cultures and economic classes, Minton noted.

 

The commission is composed of four officers from the executive branch appointed by the president, four members of the House of Representatives and four members of the Senate. King's widow, Coretta Scott King, serves as a member for life. In addition, two members are appointed by the King family, two members represent the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, Inc.

 

The commission also has 23 members representing labor, business, civil rights, religious and entertainment organizations. They serve one year renewable terms beginning June 1 of each year.

 

The chief executive officer of the Corporation for National Service also serves on the commission.

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