As Martin Luther King's Jan. 15 birthday draws near, the campaign to make the day a national holiday once again is heating up.
This year a march in Washington to the Capitol West Front, led by popular singer and composer Stevie Wonder, is part of a national campaign to collect signatures asking for passage of legislation. A bill to declare a King holiday is being sponsored in the House by Rep. John Conyers (D) of Michigan and Rep. Peter W. Rodino Jr. (D) of New Jersey, and in the Senate bill by Sen. Charles McC. Mathias Jr. (R) of Maryland.
Black congressmen and civil rights leaders around the nation have argued for years that the slain Nobel Prize-winning civil rights leader, who symbolized nonviolent protest in the 1960s, should be honored with a holiday. Supporters of the bill point out that the nation has no national celebration in honor of a black person.
Previous attempts to make Dr. King's birth date a national holiday have not succeeded. In 1979 some congressmen opposed the holiday as ''a day off the nation cannot afford.'' In 1980 one holiday bill was on its way to passage, but lost Black Caucus backing when it was amended to make King Day a Sunday holiday.
King Day now is recognized as a holiday in 19 states and the District of Columbia, a gain of four states over last year.
Three cities, Boston, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, all significant in the life of Dr. King, plan special tributes to him.
The march in Washington, supported by the Congressional Black Caucus, commemorates Dr. King's famous ''I Have a Dream'' speech in Washington in August 1963. The speech climaxed a ''March on Washington'' demonstration of 250,000 people that is considered to have had major impact in bringing about federal civil rights legislation in 1965.
A week of activities is being devoted to Dr. King's memory in Atlanta, his native city, to be climaxed Jan. 15 with the formal dedication of a Freedom Hall Complex at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. The nation's oldest observation of Dr. King's birthday will be held in Boston, where he earned his doctorate from Boston University. Two local churches will sponsor a 12th annual memorial breakfast Friday morning.
Boston University and most college campuses, together with all public schools and state and city offices, will be closed Jan. 15 in Massachusetts in honor of Dr. King.