By Ross Markman
Neva Jo Miller was 12 years old when she first heard the words and wisdom of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., words the lifelong Havre resident said she didn't fully comprehend or appreciate until much later in life.
But Miller, who spent today working her job at Valley Cleaners, said she'll never forget the knowledge and lessons she acquired from King's teachings.
"He saw things that other people didn't want to see, that we're all created equal," Miller said, tossing another load into the dryer. "There are people that have visions of how they see the world and how it should be. That was him. He changed the way of life for a lot of people."
That's why, according to Miller, the father of the modern civil rights movement, the man most revered for his Aug. 28, 1963, "I Have a Dream" speech, deserves his own holiday.
Throughout Havre, banks, the post office and Montana State University-Northern closed their doors in observance of the holiday, while Havre schools and many area businesses remained open.
Miller equates the federal holiday, which all Americans have celebrated on the third Monday of January since 1994, with the day in February designated for honoring the births of former presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
Montana officially began observing Dr. King's day in 1991. The decision to add the holiday to the Montana calendar was initially met with opposition from the Native American community, which at the time outnumbered African Americans 20-to-1 in Montana. Indian leaders, however, rebuffed attempts by white lawmakers to establish a "Native American Day" or "Chief Joseph Day" instead of a King holiday.
Some Havre residents, such as Brad Bender, maintain that King should still not be honored with a holiday.
"I haven't really paid a lot of attention to what he did. He probably had some legitimate complaints," said Bender, who works for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in Havre. "But that doesn't mean we should have a holiday for him."
Andy Smith, a 27-year-old sheet metal worker, said that although King was a positive and influential American figure, that doesn't translate into a day off for federal employees.
"I think he was a spokesman for people who were oppressed by the people who formed this country, but I don't actually know what he did other than speak his voice," Smith said. "So I don't think it should have been made a holiday. I mean, did they make a holiday for JFK?"
Meanwhile, others across town like Joe Selby, a barber at Kleen Kut Barber Shop on First Street, contend that the observance shouldn't be a federal holiday, it should be a national one.
"Right now, it's only for government workers. It should be for everybody," Selby said. "I think at the time, he was for something that needed to be solved."
Selby, who said he remembered watching King speak on television, had an additional request for the U.S. government
"[The holiday] should have been on a Tuesday," Selby said, smiling. "I already don't work Mondays."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.