Some Navy Department employees are upset and angry because they believe that a governmnet-sponsored tribute last week to the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was used in part for an appeal for funds for a congressional campaign by the Rev. Ralph David Abernathy.
Abernathy was the main speaker at the services. He was chosen. Navy offficials say, because of his long involvement as the chief aide to Dr. King, Abernathy was paid a $400 honorarium by the Navy.
The services were held in an Arlington movie theater near the headquarters of a major Navy unit. About 250 employees attended the service on administrative leave. Similar observances were held in many government agencies during the week of Dr. King's birthday.
During the talk, which ran for about an hour, Abernathy told of the civil rights struggle of Dr. King and his own close involvement with the movement.
A dozen Navy workers - 11 women and one man, including six who said they were black - called this column to complain about the speech. One woman, who said she is black, said she was "hurt and offended" by the speech. She said Abernathy's references to "whitey" (to be explained later) "offended me" and were, she thought, deragatory to white people.
Another woman, who said she is white, said "I came to hear about Martin Luther King . . . not about a political campaign." Others expressed the same general complaints.
Only two of the callers said they had discussed it with each other and decided to call The Washington Post. Two wanted to know if Abernathy was paid for the talk, and if any laws were violated because of what they saw as a fund-raising appeal. He was paid and federal officials say no laws were violated.
Navy's civilian personnel director, Bill Paz, said he was at the ceremony and he thought the speech was "great" and not offensive, or intended to be. "He talked about Dr. King. He talked about the Bible. He talked about the struggle for civil rights."
The references to "whitey" came up, Paz said, when Abernathy produced a post card he said he had received while on a trip abroad. In it, he said, the writer - who identified himself only as "whitey" - offered to send Abernathy African clothing for himself and his followers if they would stay away. Abernathy said the card contained several offensive racial slurs.
Abernathy, according to a tape of the speech made by the Navy, then said he couldn't respond directly to "whitey" since he didn't know who he was. But if you see "whitey" at work, or on the street, Abernathy said, people should remain "whitey" that blacks are Americans, and aren't going to leave their country. (Abernathy couldn't be reached for comment. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta said he was on a speaking tour.)
The part of the speech that provoked the most complaint by the callers came near the end. It goes like this, according to the tape:
". . . Somebody said to me the other day. Congressman Andrew Young to be exact, that it takes $200,000. I've never received 1 cent for my nonviolent activities. I've never received 1 penny from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. I've only received a salary from a humble Baptist Church and Baptists don't believe in paying preachers. They think the Lord will make a way, somehow.
"I said I don't have any $200.000. He (Young) said. 'But that's what it takes.' And then I thought about it and I said. 'But do you know I do have 200.000 friends.' In the Fifth District, and in Arlington. Va., and in Washington, D.C., and all across this nation. If I get 200,000 friends to give me $1, not only will I have $200,000 but I will have 200,000 individuals pulling and praying. And hoping that I will be the congressman from the Fifth Congressional District of Georgia.
"So get those checks ready. Get those money order made to Abernathy for Congress and send them to Atlanta, Ga., the post office box is 3008, for I am going to the Congress."
From the applause during the talk, and the comments afterward, it was obvious that many people at the session thought it was worthwhile.
Rep. Young, U.S. ambassador-designate to the United Nations, has not yet resigned his Fifth District seat, but the Associated Press in Atlanta said Abernathy had expressed interest in running for the pending vacant seat.