Chair Upthegrove and Members of the Council –
Way back in the fall of 1970, before several of our Councilmembers were even born, I was a high school senior in my hometown of Enumclaw. I’d enrolled in the Humanities course taught by Mr. Worthington. He provided a good introduction to higher education.
During our section on ancient Greece, Mr. Worthington suggested that much of Greek philosophy dealt with answering four basic questions:
- Who am I?
- Where did I come from?
- Where am I going?
- What is the meaning of life?
He advised that we needn’t write these questions down as we’d be answering them for the rest of our lives. That this particular high school lecture stuck with me is no doubt part of the reason I’m standing before you today – thankful for this award to which I was nominated by Councilmember Dunn, and appreciative of our shared passion for exploring and preserving the historical past.
Studying history is always about asking questions. How did this award come to be named for Martin Luther King? Why am I standing before a council of nine rather than three or 13? When was this Courthouse built? Who owned the land beneath it before 1851?
Did you know that if you go back just 20 generations in your family tree, about 600 years, there will be over one million couples whose actions led to your creation? And if you add the 19 generations in between, your mom and dad, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, and so on, the total is 2.1 million humans who unwittingly conspired to see you born.
Ponder that for a moment – an unscripted series of fate and chance, dates and rejections, marriages and divorces, unplanned births and sibling deaths. Yet through it all, those 2.1 million people survived to procreate and punch their DNA ticket to the next generation. How many saints and scoundrels, peasants or princes do we count among our ancestors? Where indeed did we come from?
Malcolm Muggeridge, an English journalist once claimed that “All new news is old news happening to new people.” The teacher in Ecclesiastes put it more simply, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” What both were trying to say is that it’s all happened before. But, what makes current news so fascinating in our lives is that it’s happening to us!
And George Orwell observed that, “Every generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before, and wiser than the one that comes after.” So it is a remarkable time we find ourselves in with Artificial Intelligence threatening to supplant the human brain, while some speak as if they represent the wisest generation humanity’s ever known.
This is why I view the past with a healthy dose of humility. As John Stewart sang, recalling forgotten generations in his song, Mother Country, “They were just a bunch of people doing the best they could.” Maybe that’s who we are.
So, I go forward with thankfulness – for the parents who loved me, the aunts and uncles who guided me, the friends with whom I played, the teachers who taught and inspired, the mentors who encouraged, the jobs that tested me, and for those who corrected my errors. And to my wife, Jennifer for the gift of children, as we now count ourselves among those 2.1 million ancestors who came before our three sons.
And I’m thankful for a previous Council who had the wisdom to rename our county after Martin Luther King, and relegate Rufus to the historical footnote that befalls most vice presidents. And a heartfelt thanks to this body for your support to historical preservation, archive retention, the Association of King County Historical Organizations, local museums, and the 4 Culture funding that benefits them all.
In his new biography of Martin Luther King, Jonathan Eig speaks of King’s Radical Christianity upon which his dream was built. So I end with a quote from our county’s namesake, that might be the answer to the queries those ancient Greeks were looking for. Here’s how King put it, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is this: ‘What are you doing for others?’”
Below is the video of my June 13 speech before the King County Council:
And next is a short broadcast produced by Kimberly Hill and Brian Starr for King County TV, as I showcase Black Diamond, Sherrie Evans, and the rich history preserved at its museum.
And finally, links to an Enumclaw Courier-Herald news story and the column, When Coal Was King: