History Link: A Nation's Grief

Friday, April 6, 2018

HistoryLink.org essay: 
A Nation's Grief

Fifty years ago this week, on April 7, 1968, a National Day of Mourning was held for the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who had been assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, three days earlier.

In Tacoma, more than 1,000 people marched downtown, singing hymns and protest songs. In Spokane, mourners filled the Calvary Baptist Church to capacity, while more crowded into the basement, listening to the memorial service on a loudspeaker. In Seattle, Mayor Dorm Braman declared April 8 a day of civic mourning and remembrance. Thousands marched to Seattle Center, where Governor Dan Evans spoke at Memorial Stadium.

The Rev. King had only visited Seattle once, on November 8, 1961, and at that time he was still regarded by many as a radical. When his original speaking venue was suddenly canceled, local supporters led by Mt. Zion pastor Samuel B. McKinney scrambled to find alternative platforms for King's message of social and racial justice. At UW he received a standing ovation, and he also spoke at Temple de Hirsch, Garfield High School, and Eagles Auditorium, now home to ACT Theater.

In 1986 Ron Sims, then the first African American member of the King County Council, led the effort to rename King County for the modern-day martyr.

The county was originally named for U.S. Senator William Rufus Devane King, an Alabama slave owner who died days after being sworn in as Vice President in 1853.

A 1986 county resolution redesignated its eponym as the Rev. King, but it would be nearly two decades before the change was affirmed by the Washington State Legislature and signed into law by Governor Christine Gregoire as one of her first official acts.

In 2007 King County's official logo was redesigned with an image of Dr. King.


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