THE VOTE in the House for a holiday to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was gratifying on two counts. First, it was decisive: 338 to 90. Holidays may, over the years, lose some of the solemnity with which they were originally endowed, but there is no doubt people do not think they should be lightly created. This vote, in which all but 13 of the Democrats voting were joined by a majority of Republicans, is clear evidence of a broad feeling in the House that this man and the principles he worked for should be honored each year.
Second, the vote was not preceded by the sort of rancorous debate that similar resolutions have provoked in some state and local governing bodies (a good argument for this national approach, by the way). The leader of the opposition argued only that he felt Dr. King should be honored on a Sunday instead of on the third Monday of each January, as the legislation provides. Rep. Jack Kemp said he now favors the King holiday, which he once opposed, because he has come to feel "that the American revolution will not be complete until we commemorate the civil rights revolution."
A generation has grown to adulthood since Dr. King led a joyful march on this city 20 years ago this month. But even those of us who were around then tend to forget how nasty things were in those days: the hard faces of the high school kids in ducktails and bobby sox spitting on black students at the entrances to schools; the sight of black boys being chased across a public swimming beach by men with clubs; the newsreel films of men smirking as they pour food and drink over the heads of young people trying to integrate a lunch counter.
The approach that Martin Luther King Jr. took in combating this bigotry--nonviolent action based on the belief that the nation's conscience could be pricked, that people could be persuaded of the moral rightness of racial equality--and the universality of his causes--peace, justice, equality --are worth honoring and remembering. As we have said before, they make this more than just a "black" holiday. The King measure now goes to the Senate. We hope the Judiciary Committee and the full Senate will soon follow the House's lead.