I love it when people are willing to admit that their forefathers were on the wrong side of history, and they choose not to honor certain historical figures anymore. When schools and city parks are named after confederates it gives me great pride when people have the sense to change those names. And it’s glorious to see the statues of tyrants torn down.
But I have to say that of all the positive examples I’ve seen of this, I stumbled upon this particular story quite by accident, and it is, in my humble opinion, brilliant.
I was riding down the street here in Seattle with a coworker, and we passed a truck that had the King County logo on its side. Martin Luther King’s face. So I had to ask, “What was King County called before MLK?”
He smiled, and said, “King County.”
Well, it seems that when this county was originally named in 1852, the powers that be chose to honor William Rufus DeVane King. Two days earlier he had resigned his seat on the US Senate due to ill health, oddly, after being elected Vice President. He had been a lifelong politician and only got to serve as Vice President for 6 weeks before dying of tuberculosis.
So far, so good. But what made things rather awkward throughout the years for one of the most liberal counties in the United States is that William King was not only from Alabama, but his family was one of the largest slaveholding families in the state, running a cotton plantation near Selma, basically off the backs of 500 slaves. He consistently voted pro-slavery in the senate.
Oh, and just to make the conservatives slightly uncomfortable, too, there is strong evidence to suggest he had a 10 year homosexual relationship with James Buchanan. Gasp! So, yeah, it seems that just about everyone in the Seattle area was uncomfortable with the name King County for one reason or another.
But here’s where it gets brilliant. How did the King County Council correct this grave historical error? In 1986 they passed a motion to rename King County… King County. Now the county is named after the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.
Isn’t that the most excellent solution you’ve ever heard? King County is now on the right side of history, and they were able to do it without the added expense of changing signage, letterhead, or acronyms. High five, King County! That’s got to be the most graceful turnaround I’ve ever seen.