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King County is renamed in honor of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 19, 2005.

HistoryLink.org Essay 7301 : Printer-Friendly Format

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 redesignated the county name to honor Dr. Martin Luther King in place 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, newly elected Vice President under President Franklin Pierce. In 1986, the King County Council redesignated the name to honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. According to County Executive Ron Sims, 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." (RCW 36.04.170).

"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, "King County redesignates county name in memory of Martin Luther King Jr. on February 24, 1986" (by Patrick McRoberts) http://www.historylink.org/ (accessed April 20, 2005); Engrossed Senate Bill 5332, Washington State Legislature website accessed April 23, 2005 (www.leg.wa.gov/pub/billinfo); RCW (Revised Code of Washington) 36.04.170.
Note: This essay was modified on May 11, 2010, and was corrected on November 5, 2010, to note that the 2005 law renamed the county.

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Signing of law changing the eponym of King County to Martin Luther King Jr., Ron Sims (l), Governor Gregoire, center, Seattle, April 19, 2005
Courtesy King County

King County logo designed by Gable Design Group in 2007

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