From crown to King: the case for a new King County logo

On Feb. 27, King County joined the state of Washington and the city of Seattle in having an official symbol that matches the face of the person after whom the juris-diction is named. Seattle has Chief Sealth. The state has George Washington. The King County Council's vote makes this county the first in the nation to adopt the image of our foremost civil rights leader, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., as our official logo.

This is a cause for celebration and the culmination of an effort that spans three decades. When the council - with a final vote of 7-2 - approved this historic ordinance, an audience that stretched from our council cham-bers burst into thunderous applause and a chorus of "We Shall Overcome."

Adopting the image of Dr. King as our logo gives respect and visibility to the fact that our county is named in honor of Dr. King. We are celebrating the 20th anniversary of becoming Martin Luther King Jr. County. In 1986, the King County Council, led by councilmembers Bruce Laing and Ron Sims, chose to recognize the life and legacy of America's foremost civil rights leader with approval of a motion renaming this county in his honor.

Our namesake changed, but very little was done by the county to recog-nize it. Until last year, in fact, the only evidence in the King County Court-house was a small plaque placed high above the heads of the thousands of people who use the courthouse.

That has changed. A beautiful mural of Dr. King's "I have a dream" speech now graces the courthouse lobby, serving as a reminder of the lasting impact Dr. King has had on the fabric of America. The mural is also a constant reminder of the power of symbols. And that has been the soul of the effort behind making Dr. King's likeness the logo for our county.

Yes, there are costs involved in this transition, but these are costs that are part of the ordinary and normal operation of King County government. Stationery stocks must be replaced as they run out. County vehicles must be retired after they wear out. Over the course of printing stationery and purchasing new vehicles, the new logo will replace the current crown. The costs involved will be spread out over five years. This amount is equivalent to only a quarter a year for each family of four in our county.

Contrary to misreporting by some news media, King County will not be paying any royalty to the King estate for the use of his likeness. Use of the image for governmental nonprofit purposes does not generally require royalties, and the King estate has his-torically granted authority to schools, charities, nonprofits and government entities to use Dr. King's works and image at no charge. The ordinance we passed prohibits the use of the official logo for for-profit commercial purposes without express permission from the King estate.

In January, Councilmember Larry Gossett met with Martin Luther King III, the eldest son of Dr. King, who told him that the King family "sees [the logo] as a great honor." I hope that very soon we will be able to invite Mr. King and his three siblings to King County when we unveil the likeness of their father for all to see.

The image of Dr. King will be a symbol worthy of this great community. The many thousands of visitors to our region now and in the future will immediately see a logo that reflects a government committed to diversity, peaceful resolutions to differences, racial and religious tolerance, and social and economic justice for all of its residents.

Such a symbol will be a far cry from the imperial image we have now: a crown symbolizing monarchy and royalty. This nation fought a Revolutionary War to overthrow the monarchy; it's time for a symbol that better represents our democracy.

Larry Phillips chairs the Metropolitan King County Council. He resides in Magnolia.

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