Thirty years after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. launched the civil rights movement here in the "cradle of the Confederacy," this is a city awash in clashing symbols and conflicting feelings.

Today, residents of this Alabama capital, where the steam-cleaned whiteness of antebellum government buildings gleams in the afternoon sun, will celebrate two holidays: the birthdays of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and of King.

But King's birthday was omitted from the official Alabama state calendar issued a few weeks ago. What happened in the aftermath highlights the dramatic changes that have occurred here, for within hours of learning of the apparent oversight a black Alabama state legislator, Alvin Holmes (D-Montgomery), introduced legislation to recall the calendars and have new ones printed. Holmes succeeded.

When King came to Montgomery at age 25 in 1955, there were no black elected officials here. Today, there are 36.

During his pastorate, King repeatedly was harassed and arrested by the police. On Monday, a historical marker will be placed at the site of the King National Tree, which was planted in 1984.

And here, unlike in most cities, all the state-sponsored activities paying tribute to King will be free.

King's prophetic words will echo throughout the nation this week, but it is in Montgomery that they will have a unique and special significance.

"From Montgomery to Birmingham, from Birmingham to Selma, from Selma back to Montgomery, the trail wound in a circle, long and often bloody, yet it has become a highway up from darkness," King said in a 1965 speech at the culmination of his historic march from Selma to Montgomery.

Nonviolent resistance had come into being -- and the tactics of boycotts, sit-ins and marches would change race relations in the United States forever. These were the tools that King used in the first successful grass-roots assault on the South's system of segregation.

Today, more blacks serve on Montgomery's police force than ever before, but police brutality remains a major concern. A few blacks have moved into wealthy, previously all-white areas of the city, but unemployment among blacks remains twice as high as among whites.

The city's schools have produced national scholars of each race, but the expulsion rate for blacks continues to skyrocket.

All public accommodations, especially the bus system are integrated, but there is a feeling among many blacks that they simply are being tolerated until whites can find new means -- such as white flight -- to resegregate themselves.

"The laws have changed, but not many hearts," said Bernard LaFayette, the pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Tuskegee, who was visiting Montgomery for the King holiday observances

Many here for the celebration will visit the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, where King preached.

The church sits on the site of a slave pen at the foot of the State Capitol, which is still adorned with the flag of the Confederacy.

The church also is just a block away from the first White House of the Confederacy, the home of Jefferson Davis, and is across the street from the State Supreme Court and the state Department of Public Safety.

In King's view, nearly all the major conflicts of the civil rights movement were fought and won on Alabama soil.

It was in Montgomery that Rosa Parks triggered a year-long bus boycott. The city became the first in the South in which an entire black community unified in the face of racism and segregation.

"Alabama has tried to nurture and defend evil," King wrote in 1965. "But evil is choking to death in the dusty roads and streets of the state. So I stand before you today with the conviction that segregation is on its deathbed, and the only thing uncertain about it is how costly the segregationists will make the funeral."

By any measure, the cost was incalculable. The death of King, which is being mourned as much as his life is being celebrated, left a leadership void that threw the civil rights movement into disarray.

Just last week a Montgomery boycott of Winn Dixie, the city's largest food chain, was called off by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the organization that King founded.

The reason given was that the food chain had agreed to reassess its business ties to the apartheid regime of South Africa.

But black leaders admit that they were more discouraged by a lack of support from the black community, which is 40 percent of the population of this city of 200,000.

"There are forces at work in the city to undermine the progress made -- and it is very hard to get the community mobilized again," said Johnnie Carr, president of the 30-year-old Montgomery Improvement Association, which had been established by King to organize the bus boycott.

"Many of the people who have made it don't feel the need to help others," Carr said, "and the young people don't remember and thus don't seem to care."

Blacks and Jews clash over affirmative action here, as in other cities.

But the most pressing question is one of black leadership. Over and over, from black bars to church basements, there is the restatement of the question posed by King in 1967: Where do we go from here?

"We're losing ground because we are no longer moving forward, and there is no standing still," said the Rev. G. Murray Branch, pastor of the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, who taught King at Morehouse College.

Among older Montgomery residents, many of whom knew King personally, there is dimming hope that another dynamic leader will appear, unite the fragmented civil rights movement and get it going again.

"There are so many leaders today that nobody knows who to follow," said Robert Nesbitt, chairman of the Dexter Church Pulpit Committee, who hired King in 1955. "King's brilliance, dynamic personality and energetic youth unified everybody, and that unity was the strength of our movement."

"It sometimes seems that God has played a cruel joke on us," said Glenn Smiley, a King supporter and confidant. "He raised the hopes of the nation, and now seems to have denied us further experimentation in nonviolence."

"We just don't have what we had in 1955," said Carr. "God gave us King for one time only, and now He expects us to pick up the dream and go to work."

The possibilities for new approaches to King's work were demonstrated in Montgomery after a recent spate of shootings by police. Since 1983, at least five young blacks have been shot under a law called the "Fleeing Felons Act," which gives police the authority to shoot a suspect who does not halt when ordered.

When racial tensions were running high, a letter was circulated throughout the black and white communities asking residents to meet at a local cafe to discuss whatever was on their mind.

The letterhead read "The Friendly Supper Club" and was signed by Jack Smith. But when a group of 20 blacks and whites met, they discovered that there was no Jack Smith, no leader of this group, just an idea for improving race relations.

Subsequently, the group has met once a month for three years and is credited with reducing racial tensions and, to some extent, improving police-community relations.

In Montgomery, change comes slowly -- but there is no mistaking, as King prophesied, that it does come.

At a recent showing of the movie "The Color Purple," blacks and whites sat together, as if that was the way it had always been.

One viewer, Riche Smiley, 23, left the theater embarrassed and with tears in her eyes, but not because of any racial slur. She simply was reacting to the movie.

To her surprise, the white youths seated next to her also cried, and it was with a sense of relief that she and they recognized their common emotions.

Upon hearing of this episode, her father, Richmond Smiley, shook his head. King often had stayed with the family and frequently spoke of his dream that one day such an integrated scene would be possible.

"There were times when I thought I'd never live to see the day this would happen," Richmond Smiley said. "I only wish that Dr. King had."