On April 19, 2005, King County is officially renamed in honor of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968) when Governor Christine Gregoire (b. 1947) signs into law Senate Bill 5332. The signing and ceremony take place at the King County Courthouse in Seattle. The change originated in 1986 when the King County Council passed a motion to name the county after Martin Luther King instead of its original namesake, William Rufus de Vane King (1786-1853).
A Change of Namesake
King County was first named in 1852 in honor of William Rufus King, who had won election that year as Vice President on the Democratic ticket with President Franklin Pierce. In 1986 the King County Council passed Motion No. 6461, which named the county to honor civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. instead of Vice President King. According to councilmember (and later County Executive) Ron Sims, who proposed the motion, the idea came from journalist Shelby Scates (1931-2013), "who believed that the county's name should symbolize justice and equality which the Reverend Dr. King fought for" (News Release).
Because the state officially charters counties, the change could not become official until signed into state law. State Senator Adam Kline sponsored state legislation eight consecutive years before the legislature voted to authorize the renaming in 2005. State Representative Eric Pettigrew sponsored the bill in the State House of Representatives. The bill amended state law to read: "King county is renamed in honor of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr." (2005 Wash. Laws, ch. 90). The new law took effect on July 24, 2005.
"State Law Changed to Rename King County," News Release, Ron Sims (King County Executive) website (http://www.metrokc.gov/exec/news/005/04/19mlkjrCounty.htm); HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Renaming King County to Honor the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr." (by Michael Schein) and "King County redesignates county name in memory of Martin Luther King Jr. on February 24, 1986" (by Patrick McRoberts) http://www.historylink.org/ (accessed August 13, 2016); "Motion No. 6461," King County website accessed August 13, 2016 (http://www.kingcounty.gov/exec/mlk/other_resources/motion_6461.aspx); 2005 Wash. Laws, ch. 90, copy available at Washington State Legislature website accessed August 13, 2016 (http://lawfilesext.leg.wa.gov/biennium/2005-06/Pdf/Bills/Session%20Laws/Senate/5332.SL.pdf).
Note: This essay was modified on May 11, 2010, corrected on November 5, 2010, and revised on August 13, 2016.
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