In the United States, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is observed on the third Monday of January each year. The City of Seattle is the county seat of King County, Washington. The county was initially named in dedication to Vice President William Rufus King (who retains the record as the U.S. Vice President with the shortest term in office of only 45 days). He was the 13th Vice President.
Vice President King, under the presidency of Franklin Pierce, was a strong advocate of slavery in the United States, and opposed all efforts for its abolition. He was also a slave owner, and one of the founders of Selma, Alabama, a significant town with its own indelible and profound history in American Civil Rights and race relations. It’s difficult not to mention or reference Selma when it comes to the history of racism in the U.S.
In light of this history, back in Washington State, the King County Council elected to have the county’s name rededicated in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. This occurred in 1986, the first year the U.S. observed the holiday. At the beginning, there was plenty of controversy within the federal government regarding the ratification of the holiday. Even President Ronald Reagan, who passed the motion into law, was not pleased to create a federal holiday to honor MLK. (This was only 33 years ago)! Reagan wasn’t alone in his adversity. The state governments of Arizona, New Hampshire, and South Carolina initially refused to observe MLK Jr. Day. It wasn’t until the year 2000 that every state in the nation officially observed the day. Even in light of this, because MLK Jr. Day is a federal holiday and not a national holiday (“federal” and “national” are not synonymous when it comes to American holidays), many companies and organizations, at present, can (and do) choose not to observe MLK Jr. Day whatsoever. Alas, this holiday, and who should or should not observe it, remains controversial to this day.
King County’s renaming and rededication (from the 13th VP to the Civil Rights activist) was officially ratified by Washington Governor Christine Gregoire in 2005, a decision that had to be passed by the state, not the county, which is probably part of the reason the rededication took nearly 20 years to be officially recognized.
On March 12, 2007, five days before I relocated to Seattle from Washington, D.C., the official logo of King County was changed to an image of MLK. As a result, King County, Washington is the first county in the USA whose government decided to switch its own logo (originally a golden crown) into the image of one of the nation’s most internationally renowned civil rights activists. King County, Washington is the only county out of the 3,007 counties and 64 parishes in the United States to have the unique distinction of being named after the Civil Rights activist.
These are some of the very remarkable aspects about the City of Seattle and King County that I have come to respect wholeheartedly. I keep on learning more and more about the factors that make this city and its people very distinctive and quite out of the ordinary.