In Alaska, an Anchorage street will be renamed in his honor and carillon bells in Juneau will ring out "We Shall Overcome" during a candlelight march. Alabama state employes will have the day off, and officials in Birmingham, where he was jailed for leading civil rights demonstrations, will unveil his statue in City Hall.
Connecticut is hosting a youth conference. Colorado is planning a march and parade in Denver and dubbing it "The Martin Marade."
With these and hundreds of other events -- a simple worship service today at Prince George's Community College, an elaborate Kennedy Center gala on Jan. 20 featuring Stevie Wonder and Bob Dylan -- the nation this month will commemorate the birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and mark a new federal holiday dedicated to his life and legacy.
The slain civil rights leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate would have been 57 this Wednesday.
"Daddy felt that loving, caring and sharing was the way to go," King's son, Martin Luther King III, 28, said in an interview yesterday. "I would like to see this day celebrated in a way that is totally different than any other holiday. It should be a day of recommitment."
Despite a slow start and some serious problems raising money, the year-old Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday Commission, which was set up to organize the observance, reports that King's birthday will be marked with various activities in more than 40 states and several countries.
In North Carolina, whose Republican senator, Jesse Helms, vehemently fought the King holiday legislation, there are 14 events scheduled to honor King.
Across the country, people are being asked to sign "Living the Dream" pledge cards, which the birthday commission is collecting for the archives of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Change in Atlanta.
By federal law, the third Monday in January has been designated as the official King holiday, which means this first annual observance will be held Jan. 20. King's actual birthday is Jan. 15.
Locally, the District of Columbia, which has been honoring King's birthday for years, plans an eight-day observance that will involve the Rev. Jesse Jackson, D.C. Del. Walter Fauntroy, Mayor Marion Barry and other black political leaders who worked closely with King and helped lobby for a King holiday. Their likenesses will be included on a 7-by-56-foot mural illustrating King's life that will be unveiled Jan. 20 at the Martin Luther King Library downtown.
On Wednesday, President Reagan will visit Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in Southeast Washington. Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes and the General Assembly will meet that day in Annapolis for a special joint session of the legislature in King's honor.
And in Richmond, newly installed Lt. Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, the first black elected to statewide office in Virginia's history, will discuss King's life and answer questions from an audience that will be watching a live telecast of the program in Johannesburg.
"People like King made it possible for me to be elected to the state Senate, and obviously, without that position, I would not have been able to build on that," said Wilder, a lawyer who had represented Richmond in the state legislature.
But this first federal King holiday has additional significance for Wilder, who waged a nine-year campaign to get Virginia to make King's birthday a state holiday. It was not the easiest thing he has ever done.
"I remember going to a social gathering soon after introducing the bill," Wilder said. "There was a guest register to sign, and someone signed the book with a reference to 'Martin Luther Coon.' "
Virginia initially began marking King's birthday on New Year's Day, then tacked his birthday observance onto an existing state holiday honoring Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and Thomas (Stonewall) Jackson. The General Assembly takes special note of each man on his actual birthday, and Wilder, who as lieutenant governor will adjourn the Senate each day, will do so on Jan. 15 in honor of King.
"It will be good for those words to come out of my mouth," he said.
Getting Congress to approve a holiday for King, increasing the number of federal holidays to 10, was not easy, either. It took nearly 16 years of marches, petitions and political maneuvering and more than a little help from singer/composer Stevie Wonder, who led several demonstrations on behalf of the legislation.
Except for essential government workers and military units, the King federal holiday means a day off for about 5 million civilian and military personnel. A federal holiday, however, is not a national holiday, and it is up to the individual states to decide whether to join this or any other federal observance.
Some states and cities, especially those with large black populations, treated King's birthday as a holiday long before Congress acted.
The District of Columbia, for example, started observing King's birthday in 1969, the year after he was assassinated in Memphis. It was designated an official holiday in 1975, but city employes were not given an automatic day off until 1978, according to city personnel officials.
This year, state and most county and local offices and schools in Virginia and Maryland, where King's birthday has been an official state holiday since 1975, will be closed, either on Jan. 15 or Jan. 20.
Atlanta, King's home town, is holding several days of activities, and King's widow, Coretta Scott King, and his children have criss-crossed the country in recent months meeting with state and local officials planning their own King holiday events.
Twenty-eight states already honor King's birthday in some way, but only 24 of them give government employes a day off. The private sector has been slower to recognize the holiday.
"There's a wait-and-see attitude as to what this holiday will be about," said James C. Karantonis, who directs the D.C. office of the federal King holiday commission.
Predicting that state government and corporate observance of the holiday will grow, Karantonis said the day will come when corporate officials "will feel like Scrooge" if they don't give their employes the day off. Moreover, Karantonis said, King's birthday celebration is a chance "to make the holiday really mean something -- so it's not like Washington's Birthday where very few people do anything except go shopping."
Chicago attorney Jewel S. Lafontant, a member of the federal King holiday commission and a director of the Equitable Life Assurance Society of New York, said the private sector traditionally does not observe some federal holidays.
But, she noted, Equitable is giving its employes the day off on King's holiday, and Illinois state employes also have the holiday off.
"It will catch on," she said. "The King holiday is just a breakthrough in so many ways. So many people knew him and loved him -- he was just a great man."
Both the man and his movement are fresh in the memories of Lafontant and others, which has proved to be a compelling motivation for honoring him.
At the District's Martin Luther King Library, Hardy Franklin, the director, was in King's Bible class at Morehouse College in Atlanta and remembers how King, the preacher's son, breezed through the required course.
"He was a very nice guy, had quite a sense of humor and was on the debating team," recalled Franklin, vice chairman of the District's King holiday commission. "Everybody thought he'd be an outstanding preacher because he was exceptional even then."
With King's place in history now cemented in the national consciousness, the chief concern of his family and admirers is that his birthday observance not be just another day off.
"From a contemporary perspective, King should be a leader and a role model for our children," said Mary Futrell, president of the National Education Association and another member of the King holiday commission.
King believed in racial equality and nonviolent social change, and holiday organizers believe his birthday should be a time for Americans to reflect on these principles and to teach the next generation about them.
"Ten or 15 years ago, I don't think many of us ever thought it would be a federal holiday, but it is," she said. "And the reason for celebrating Washington's or Lincoln's or Dr. King's birthday is to remind us we have had and we have great leaders who gave of themselves."
Though at least one Bladensburg carpet firm recently advertised Martin Luther King Jr. "holiday discounts" to shoppers, Futrell, "Marty" King III and others said they don't think King would want his holiday commercialized like most of the other holidays.
Wisconsin's Gov. Anthony Earl has suggested that residents in his state honor King by helping farmers pick corn left in the fields during wet weather.
King's son said yesterday that his father's and other federal holidays should be observed as days of peace, reflection and perhaps fasting or days of tackling a community cleanup task or some other civic project.
"The emphasis is not just on this being another day off," said King library director Franklin. "Hopefully, people will reflect on Dr. King's goals and mission and the impact on our lives that we all cherish."