Wash. County Trashes Garbage Bags With MLK’s Face

Manuel Valdes, AP, September 3, 2008

More than two years after his face was adopted as the official logo for King County, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s profile is on voter ballot envelopes, on metro buses, at the county council chambers, and prominently displayed on the county’s Web site.

But officials were concerned about one place they felt wasn’t appropriate for the slain civil rights leader’s likeness—the county’s trash bags.

The bags were quietly pulled from use earlier this summer, even though no one from the public had complained. The pre-emptive move opened a window into the delicate decisions officials have made after King County adopted the face of the revered figure as its official emblem.

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King County—the most-populated county in Washington, with a county seat of Seattle, and the 14th largest by population in the nation—adopted the logo in 2006 and unveiled it the next year. It features a striking profile of King in a black and white silhouette. King County had been originally christened after former U.S. vice president William Rufus DeVane King, a slave owner.

The possibility of plastering King’s face on mundane county items like trash bins or prisoner uniforms raised eyebrows among county officials when the proposal was approved. The old logo was a generic crown.

The decision of where the new logo goes lies with Duncan and King County Executive Ron Sims, who is black. As the head of communications, Duncan is in charge of the messages—symbolic or not—King County sends.

Her challenge: to maintain the county brand, without splashing King’s face on something that’s demeaning to King’s history.

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Some county officials and African-American leaders in Seattle have no qualms about using the image of King.

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Gossett, a longtime leader in the African-American community here, knew from the beginning there would be challenges. His own son told him that he didn’t want to see King’s face on a police car.

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While Kline said that King County is believed to be the first government to take King’s likeness as a logo, scores of local governments have named streets, parks and even pool centers after the civil rights leader. But many of those moves have carried a stigma: many Martin Luther King Jr. streets, avenues, ways and boulevards are in low-income, crime-ridden areas.

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