King Country Opts to Brand MLK

As a former King County resident, I was extremely disappointed to learn that the County Council approved a measure to adopt an image of Martin Luther King Jr. for a new logo. Before a crowd gathers below my balcony in protest, let me explain why.

First, voters didn't approve the idea when Ron Sims presented this in 1999. According to the King County poll, 85 percent of residents voted against changing the logo and replacing it with an image of MLK. Although the poll is becoming dated, I doubt public opinion has swayed drastically on this issue. The logo change is not in the public's interest.

Second, it's merely a coincidence that King County and MLK share the same name. The county was originally named after former U.S. Vice President William Rufus DeVane King, who died in office in 1853. According to Sound Politics commentor Reporterward, King supported "land bills that helped stimulate settlement of Western territories and attracted pioneers to come to Washington State to claim homesteads as a place to start."

Vice President King was a slave owner, which is a reason why the County Council voted in 1986 to change the county namesake to MLK. Gregoire signed the namesake change into law in April 2005. (This doesn't change the fact that MLK has no ties to King County, except for one visit in 1961 and coincidentally sharing the same name.) On a tangent, if we're going to start changing namesakes because of slave ownership, we ought to do away with our state's name and reconsider renaming the U.S. all together, as nearly all of our founding fathers were slave owners. (Read: The '86 vote was political B.S. and I don't like Gregoire anyway.)

Third, MLK has enough public recognition already. We've honored him with his own national holiday. His legacy is the epicenter of Black History Month, and there's a major avenue named after him in every city in the U.S. All of those honors are appropriate, but let's put his legacy in context with other great Americans, including presidents, who receive comparably little recognition in the public arena. Is this new honor necessary?

Fourth, and most importantly, County Council was financially irresponsible for approving this measure. According to the Seattle Times, the branding transition will cost the county $522,255 over five years. The article reports:

"The ordinance passed 7-2, with Republicans Jane Hague of Bellevue and Kathy Lambert of Woodinville voting no because of concerns that the county could be liable to royalty claims from King's estate if it uses the logo in any commercial ventures.

The ordinance declares the county "does not intend to seek commercial profit" from use of the logo and acknowledges the King family's interest in collecting royalties from commercial uses of his image."

Thus, not only is the county paying more than $500,000 for the logo change, but it's also making itself eligible for royalty payments.

I believe the best way to honor MLK is to give the money to the struggling King County school districts. According to a Seattle Times article, the Seattle School District forecasts a $15 million budget deficit in 2006-07 and a nearly $25 million deficit the following school year. Changing a logo will not facilitate the societal changes MLK fought for. Empowering education will.