View Header


                     Office of the Press Secretary
                          (New York, New York)
For Immediate Release                                   January 15, 1999




January 15 would have marked the 70th birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a man of great vision and moral purpose whose dream for our Nation set into motion such powerful, sweeping changes that their impact is still being felt today. While he was taken from us too soon, we still have with us the gifts of his vision, convictions, eloquence, and example. We still hear the echo of his voice telling us that "Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'"

We know what Dr. King did for others. He energized and mobilized a generation of Americans, black and white, to join in the struggle for civil rights, to respond to violence, hatred, and unjust incarceration with the spirit of peace, love, and righteousness. He taught us that we could not claim America as the land of justice, freedom, and equality as long as millions of our citizens continually and systematically faced discriminatory and oppressive treatment. He challenged us to recognize that the fundamental rights of all Americans are forever interconnected, for "we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."

Martin Luther King, Jr., awakened America's conscience to the immorality of racism. He was the driving force behind the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968. For African Americans, this landmark legislation meant that the opportunity for a quality education would no longer be impossible, the levers of the voting booth would no longer be out of reach, and the purchase of a dream home would no longer be unattainable. Millions of Americans -- of every race and background and culture -- live brighter lives today because of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. King's dream of unity for America did not die with him. Today, as our Nation becomes increasingly multiracial and multiethnic, his compelling vision is more important than ever, and the means for realizing it are now within our reach. This past year, as part of my Initiative on Race, Americans across the country participated in thousands of honest and open conversations about race in a sincere effort to heal our divisions and move toward genuine reconciliation. We learned much about the roots of prejudice; but more important, we learned much about how to overcome it. In community after community, in every field of endeavor from sports and education to business and religion, we discovered organizations and programs that have succeeded in bridging gaps between people of different races and cultures. These promising practices offer us both realistic guidelines for everyday action and genuine hope that we can respect one another's differences and embrace the values that unite us.

Now it is our turn to answer the question, "What are you doing for others?" As part of our response, each year since 1994 we have made the Martin Luther King, Jr., Federal Holiday a national day of service, a day on which to honor Dr. King's legacy through service projects across our country. Instead of taking a day off, millions of our fellow Americans respond to the needs of their communities, through activities like tutoring children, sheltering the homeless, making schoolyards safer, or making public parks more inviting.

Let us make this year's observance the beginning of a broader effort to improve our communities and the lives of our fellow Americans, to make the personal choices and take the personal actions that will bridge the gaps -- racial and otherwise -- that keep us from becoming the people we were meant to be. Working together, joining our hearts and our hands, we will succeed in building One America for the 21st century and in fulfilling the dream of Martin Luther King, Jr.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, WILLIAM J. CLINTON, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim Monday, January 18, 1999, as the Martin Luther King, Jr., Federal Holiday. I call upon all Americans to observe this occasion and to honor Dr. King's legacy with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this fifteenth day of January, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and ninety-nine, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and twenty-third.