A special "ceremonial session" of the General Assembly convened at St. John's College in Annapolis yesterday afternoon for a tribute to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. State leaders spoke in praise of the slain civil rights leader and his legacy, described the state's achievements in civil rights and vowed to do more in the future.

Gov. Harry Hughes, quoting at length from a King speech, said Maryland has been "in the forefront of fighting hate and extremism."

He said the state leads the nation in the number of minority judges and that this record is reflected throughout state government. But he told legislators they must strive to do more.

"I have taken that pledge," he said.

Much of the program was taken up by rounds of congratulations and with the good-humored comments of legislators let out of work for the afternoon.

"We realized by January 1986 the members of the General Assembly could use some inspiration," House Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Baltimore) told legislators, recounting how the program was arranged.

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra played works by Berlioz and Beethoven, evoking freedom and independence, and "New Morning for the World" by Joseph Schwantner, a 1984 work based on King's writing. St. Mary's College student William Boyd sang the spiritual "If I Can Help Somebody" and the civil rights song "We Shall Overcome."