King ceremony marred by threat of war

January 15, 1991|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,Evening Sun Staff

The question asked the little girl is simple enough: Do you know what today is? But the answer 11-year-old Loretta Murray gives sounds harshly mature.

"It's Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday," she says. "It's a holiday."

She pauses and fidgets with her plaid school jumper.

"It's Rev. King's birthday, but it's also the day when the the war with Iraq begins -- today on King's birthday."

The irony of the 62nd anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birth falling on the day the deadline expires for peace in the Persian Gulf was not lost on Loretta or any of her grade school friends today.

Nor was it lost on the more than 1,700 people who crowded into Martin's West this morning for the 16th annual breakfast honoring the slain civil rights leader.

Many feel that the decision to establish today -- King's birthday -- as the deadline for Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait is insensitive and a slap at the black community.

"Things like this just don't happen overnight. They're sending out a signal from the White House -- and it's not a very positive signal," said the Rev. John L. Wright, president of the Maryland State Conference of the NAACP.

Wright said the U.N. Security Council could have chosen dates prior or after King's birthday for the deadline for the Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait.

"This holiday is significant to [blacks]. Our forefathers have fought long and hard for this day," Wright said. "We should have been given this day clear. King was the protector of the peace."

Newly elected Baltimore County Executive Roger Hayden said King's accomplishments will not go unnoticed although the deadline date and possible war "flies in the face of everything King talked about."

For Loretta, a fourth-grader at George G. Kelson Elementary School in West Baltimore, today means a day off from school. But she is unsure whether the holiday is for King's birthday or for the pending war.

"We learned about Dr. King, and war is not what he wanted," she said. "He wanted everybody to come together. He had a dream and he stood for goodness. And now they said a big war is coming with Iraq."

Although she has learned about King in school, she also has learned much about Iraq and its president, Saddam Hussein. "We don't know about them in Iraq. But we will learn about them soon. I wish it wasn't going to happen. There shouldn't be a war because it's not what Dr. King wanted. All we should think about is King today, not a war."

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