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‘King’ a popular school name

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Nearly 40 years after Martin Luther King Jr. described his dream of seeing "little black boys and black girls" joining hands with "little white boys and white girls," 116 U.S. public schools are named after him.

If a historical figure's legacy can be measured by the number of schools named after him, King does fairly well. Seven U.S. public schools are named after Malcolm X, and close to 600 are named after Abraham Lincoln. Ten schools are named after Amelia Earhart. (Utah has no schools named for King or Malcolm X, five named after Lincoln and one after Earhart.) Forty-nine are named after Robert E. Lee, the commander of the Confederate army whose birthday, Jan. 19, falls not far from the King holiday. John F. Kennedy is the namesake of 157 schools; Robert Kennedy, 11.

Often located in urban centers, the schools named after King frequently have African-American student bodies.

In Alabama, one of the states he referred to in his now-famous "I Have a Dream" speech, two elementary schools — one in Montgomery and one in Tuscaloosa — bear his name.

Elementary, middle and high schools in Phoenix, Ariz.; Compton, Calif.; and Denver also are named after King.

In Toledo, Ohio, the nearly 500 students at Martin Luther King Elementary School are primarily African-American, with the exception of a handful of Hispanics.

But in Green Bay, Wis., almost 19 percent of the student body of King Elementary School is non-white. The largest minority group is Native American, says school secretary Barbara Mann.

Students named the school after King 10 years ago when a new building went up. They'll celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day by marching around the school, decorating several cakes and continuing to participate in a yearlong project to replicate the miles King walked during his famous marches. Instead of marching, they're meeting his miles by running, walking and even shoveling snow.

Many of the schools were renamed after King's 1968 assassination. At Martin Luther King Middle School in Berkeley, Calif., students, parents and staff chose the name after King died. "It seemed very appropriate for this school with a population that included students from so many different cultural backgrounds," a pamphlet says. Fifty-eight percent of its student population is minority, according to computer files from the U.S. Department of Education from the 1999-2000 school year.

The first thing students entering Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in Colorado Springs, Colo., see is a mammoth oil painting of King.

Principal Evelyn Lucero said the school celebrates the holiday in a number of ways, including a choir concert in downtown Colorado Springs, art and poetry. Also, books and tapes about King are set out in the library for students. One of the highlights of the school's King festivities is a sing-along scheduled for the Friday before the holiday, with "We Shall Overcome."

The school got its name when it opened 18 years ago. The community debated a variety of names, she said, "but Dr. King rose to the top because of his contributions." Now, the holiday is a highlight at the school.

"We think we do a nice celebration," she said. "It's very child-centered."

At the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Academy at Macomb Elementary in Mount Clemens, Mich., King's legacy lives on, thanks to a partnership between the local school district and Edison Schools, the nation's largest private, for-profit manager of public schools.

The kindergarten-through-grade-2 school, located east of Detroit, opened in 1995. Years ago, another elementary school in Mount Clemens — now closed — bore King's name.

Virgie Crawley, associate principal at the school, said the school is celebrating the holiday by singing songs and doing projects about him. When she taught first grade there, she "used to make a big deal of him," she said. "I'd talk about how he was the same age as my mother during the time of his work," she said. "I'd tell them, 'I'm a product of his work.'"