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How best to salute MLK on a day off?

| Thursday, Jan. 20, 2011

Monday capped a relaxing three-day weekend for most people.

Oh, and it was Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. Federal and most state governments, along with some businesses, closed for the day, as they have since 1986. South Carolina was the last state to observe the holiday, starting in 2000.

As it happens, some resistance remains to the idea. A nationwide poll by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications found 25 percent of Americans do not think King's birthday should be observed as a holiday.

Tough crowd.

Let's review: When King was still in his 20s, he placed himself — at great personal risk — at the forefront of the fight for equal rights for all. He headed peaceful boycotts and marches, becoming the mouthpiece for a civil rights movement. He dared to express the idea that we could live in a colorblind world at a time when that wasn't a popular idea. Ten years before his assassination in 1968, a black woman stabbed him at a book signing in Harlem, just missing his aorta. That attempt on his life and subsequent death threats did not sway him from his mission.

He was 39 when he was killed.

Wonder what the poll respondents were doing when they were in their 30s?

At least there are 75 percent of us who don't have much of a problem with the holiday. Which begs another question: How do people celebrate Martin Luther King Day?

I was hard-pressed to find someone who didn't think Monday should be a holiday. I was also hard-pressed to find someone who did something in the spirit of the holiday.

James Palocsik of Hopewell said he found King's birthday a worthwhile holiday, but had his hands full. "I was off, but my wife had to work," he said. "I spent the day with my 2-year-old."

"He's my black Jesus!" Rosa Good of the North Side exclaimed. "I definitely believe it should be a holiday." She spent the day at home, she told me, watching BET and eating soul food. It's what she does every year on the holiday.

Her friend, Robert Nixon, acknowledged that when he was younger, he didn't appreciate the value of King's contribution. He favored a more militant approach to equal rights. Now, he feels differently.

There's no question we should observe this holiday, Nixon said. "If (people) don't agree with it, there's something wrong with them."

He spent the day with his brother. "I sat around, relaxed, and then we went to dinner and the casino. I just took advantage of the day."

I worked, as I have for just about every such holiday for most of my adult life. I don't have a problem with that. There was a time in our country's history when I couldn't have a job at a major newspaper because of my skin color. Reporting for duty is a fine way to celebrate King's legacy.

Is it really enough that our country set aside a day for one of its heroes and then we sit at home that day• That's probably not what King would have wanted. Maybe you don't have to go to a church service to celebrate his legacy, but watching BET?

It's a little difficult imagining King finding value in watching old episodes of "Good Times" and the movie "Soul Plane."

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