ON A RECENT evening WHMM--TV/Channel 32 aired some early film footage of Martin Luther King Jr. It all flooded back: the power of the booming voice and the impact of his message. For those who remember Montgomery, Selma, Memphis and the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in the summer of 1963, the magnificent simplicity of Dr. King's hopes and demands for justice ring out today as then.

The context of those moments--the ugly prejudice, the intolerance, the physical violence--may not be sensed to the fullest by those who have come to adulthood since then, or by their children. But for that very reason it is important to recognize and celebrate Dr. King's quest for the spiritual liberation of all people.

What about his dream? It was not simply the musing of a black "leader" about civil rights for people of color. It was the dream of an American for all Americans, an affirmation of faith buttressed by old-fashioned patriotic values: "When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of that old Negro spiritual, 'Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!'"

There is still a difference between the dream and reality, and here again the words of Dr. King, in 1961, are fresh: "To make the American dream a reality, we will continue to . . . break down all of the barriers of segregation. . . . We will be able to adjourn the councils of despair and bring new light into the dark chambers of pessimism and then, on that new day, when that day comes, the fears of insecurity, the torments of frustration, and the doubts clouding our future, will be transformed into confidence, into excitement to reach new goals, and in which the brotherhood of man will be undergirded by secure and expanding prosperity available to all."

Does it take a holiday to reflect on this dream? It need not, but sentiment runs deep to make Dr. King's birthday an official national holiday. The observance would be a formal, national recognition of the goals of his struggle and the ingredients of his dream: justice, humanity, nonviolence and compassion for one's adversaries. In the meantime, people across the land may consider pausing for a moment today to reflect on the dream, and on what it awakened in America.