Celebrating Black History Month: The face of change

As a symbol, King County’s logo remains a powerful daily visual reminder for what Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy stands for — past and present — and the values of racial justice and advocacy for fair and equal treatment of people of all races, that he represents for our community and government.

“During the less than 13 years of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s leadership of the modern American Civil Rights Movement, from December 1955 until April 4, 1968, African Americans achieved more genuine progress toward racial equality in America than the previous 350 years had produced. Dr. King is widely regarded as America’s pre-eminent advocate of nonviolence and one of the greatest nonviolent leaders in world history,” according to The King Center.

Yet the King County logo didn’t always embody the values of the people of this region.

King County was originally named in 1852 for Vice President William R. King, a southern politician and slave owner. Over 130 years later, in 1986, County Councilmember Bruce Laing proposed that King County officially make Dr. King the County’s namesake to honor his legacy and contributions. This transition was supported by numerous state and local elected officials and community leaders.

Twenty years of sustained grassroots campaign and tremendous political pressure mounted by thousands of King County residents on Washington State Legislature and King County Council to change our County logo from an imperial crown to the image of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr finally led to success. In 2005, the Washington State Legislature formally voted to change to state law making Dr. King the County’s official namesake. The following year, in February 2006, acting on legislation sponsored by then-Council Chair Larry Gossett, the County Council approved a change from the golden crown logo symbolic of a monarchy to one “representing the values of a forward-thinking government whose ideals include justice, diversity and equality.”

After an extensive national competitive process supervised by 4Culture, local firm Tony Gable Design Group was awarded the contract to create the logo and graphic standards. The design group conducted a series of meetings and focus groups with citizens and community leaders to get input on the process and design ideas. The final logo design was selected by a committee of King County elected leaders, and on March 12, 2007, was approved by the County Council by a unanimous vote.

When the elected officials selected the final design, comments about the iconic image of Dr. King that became the King County logo included “striking,”  “portrays a balanced sense of hope,” and “can be supported and embraced by the community.”

The image of Dr. King that now adorns everything from buses to park signs to our websites and social media presence represents not only the programs and government of King County, but what we strive to achieve in service to our community. As we take the time to celebrate Black History Month, it’s also a time to reflect on what we can do in our work — every day of the year — to embody the philosophy and example of the King County namesake.  Learn more about the life and legacy of Dr. King and view our virtual 2021 celebration, Creating the Beloved Community.