Montgomery County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist, saying his action was prompted by a four-fold increase last year in racial and religious hate incidents, has asked the County Council to make Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday a county government holiday.
Speaking at a celebration commemorating King's birthday at Montgomery College last week, Gilchrist said the council already has indicated its unanimous support for the measure.
"Dr. King's nonviolent approach changed the course of history, advanced the rights of many and raised the consciousness of our overall society," Gilchrist said, adding that making King's birthday a county holiday would be an emphatic official statement against the hatred that has bred the incidents.
Ninety-eight incidents of racial or religious violence were reported in the county during 1981, compared with 25 in 1980.
Maryland is one of 10 states in which the civil rights leader's birthday is a legal holiday, but Montgomery County has not given its employes the day off in the past. Under Gilchrist's proposal, county workers in the future would get a day off on Jan. 15, King's birthday, instead of on May 25, Maryland Day, which also is a state holiday.
The action would bring Montgomery in line with most other area jurisdictions and public school systems, which already give students and employes a day off on Jan. 15.
Last week's commemoration included impassioned speeches, soaring choral selections and personal rededication for many of the nearly 200 who attended.
A movie produced for the Martin Luther King Foundation reviewed the bitter struggle King led for basic civil rights that many children who were in the audience now take for granted. The film included scenes of the bus boycott over segregated seating in Montgomery, Ala., the march from Selma to Montgomery for the right to register to vote and the lunch counter sit-ins across the south. The audience saw once again the angry confrontations with local police, the high-power water hoses, the dogs, the mass arrests, the federal troops--all of which galvanized a nation watching on television.
Through it all was King's constant reminder that the movement was nonviolent, a philosophy that led him to become one of the first national leaders to oppose the war in Vietnam. Repeatedly, the movie recalled the words from Genesis, "Let us kill him . . . and we shall see what will become of his dream."
Rev. T.J. Baltimore, pastor of The People's Community Baptist Church in Silver Spring, who attended Boston University with King, evoked King's legacy in a fiery speech on what he termed the "gospel of liberation."
"It is not a gospel of an appeasement, but a radical involvement in the liberation of the oppressed," said Baltimore. "It is the gospel of social and political action that will usher in a more human order."
He appeared to warn elected officials in the room that "we cannot trust you now, for you have failed us in the past 13 years since the death of Martin Luther King," adding, "we cannot trust you to provide quality education in this county. We cannot trust you to provide adequate leadership."
"It is my dream that black Americans would work . . . hard . . . to see that blacks are seated on the County Council, the House of Delegates and Congress," he said.
The Montgomery County Youth Chorus, its ranks depleted by the snow and bitter cold that had locked up the region for three days, sang several spirituals under the direction of Gerald F. Muller. The Francis Scott Key Junior High School Dance Club performed a selection from the musical "Don't Bother Me, I Can't Cope."
Leaving the auditorium, a group of girls, members of the NAACP youth group who attend Rockville's Wood Junior High, said that, though they were not born when King was alive, they still feel the sting of discrimination. Most said they believe they would have been held back from advanced placement classes at school if their parents had not confronted school authorities and demanded special classes for them.
Arthur L. Beamon of Silver Spring, preparing to leave with his wife and two daughters, pulled on his gloves thoughtfully, saying, "I came because it is important for the children that they learn about the life and work of Martin Luther King, and important for me not to forget."