The Martin Luther King Jr. Civil Rights Memorial Park is a four-and-a-half-acre green space that boasts a view toward downtown Seattle from the east hillside of Martin Luther King Jr. Way between South Walker and South Bayview Streets. The park is designed around a 30-foot black granite sculpture inspired by King’s “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech, made the day before he was assassinated in 1968. Water cascades down the face of the iconic sculpture surrounded by 12 bronze plaques noting the stages of Dr. King’s life, and an additional 12 plaques are set in a circular wall featuring quotations from his speeches.
Following the renaming of the county in 1986,the park was designated in 1991 as a memorial park, and in 2018 the name was modified to include the words “Civil Rights.” The park honors the legacy of Dr. King and pays tribute to the vision he promoted for social justice and world peace.
Martin Luther King Jr. Way
This eight-mile street was once named Empire Way to honor railroad baron James J. Hill, “The Empire Builder,” whose efforts resulted in the construction of the transcontinental railroad to points west. In 1981, Seattle activist and businessman Eddie Rye Jr. proposed a name change to Martin Luther King Jr. Way for the heavily traveled corridor. It was not a popular change with some south Seattle merchants, who filed a lawsuit contesting approval by the Seattle City Council. After a long court battle, the decision was upheld, and on January 15, 1984, Seattle Mayor Charles Royer cut the ribbon to open the renamed stretch of highway.
Renaming King County
On February 24, 1986, the King County Council approved Motion 6461 to rename the county in honor of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., preserving the name “King County” but changing its namesake. A portion of the motion’s historical basis read: “Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a man whose contributions are well-documented and celebrated by millions throughout this nation and the world and embody the attributes for which the citizens of King County can be proud and claim as their own.”
King County’s first eponym, William Rufus de Vane King, was a slaveowner in Alabama who was elected to the U.S. Senate. In 1852, King was elected vice president of the United States on the Democratic ticket with Franklin Pierce but died from tuberculosis shortly thereafter in 1853.