Last October I had a job interview in Seattle. I didn’t want to move there, really. Even though flights are relatively cheap, it’s pretty far away with a three hour time difference. But I was willing to relocate almost anywhere to get my foot in the door as a professional writer. While I ultimate didn’t take the job, I really did enjoy the city in my 48 hours there.
Walking downtown I passed the King County judicial complex. Seattle, I thought, obviously must be in King County. But I Wikipedia everything. I wanted to know a little more. I learned that King County the 12th most populated county in the US. Over two million people – almost 4 times the size of Seattle proper.
Then I scrolled down and saw the King County, Washington flag.
I know Seattle is a bastion of white liberalism. I’d seen the Black Lives Matter lawn signs in upscale neighborhoods and in the windows of a kombucha brewery (yes, that’s a thing there). But they named their county after Martin Luther King? What was the name before?
It turns out that Seattle was always in King County, since its establishment 1852. But it was named after a different King – William R. King.
William King was a 19th Century politician and diplomat born in North Carolina. He served as a Senator representing Alabama a decade before the civil war, and died as Vice President of the United States, serving with President Franklin Pierce. He was a slave owner, and staunch advocate of the Southern institution.
Seattle liberals, in 1986, decided that they didn’t want a county name that didn’t reflect their values. But rather than change the name, they recreated King County in the image of the most obvious King – Martin Luther. The measure passed 5 to 4 in the King County Council, but the change didn’t officially go into effect until 2005, when the governor signed the renaming into law.
Six months before my Seattle visit – I had attended one of George Clinton’s last shows in New York. This was a few days after he announced he’d retire in May of 2019 – though Parliament Funkadelic would continue to perform. Clinton had recently undergone pacemaker surgery.
I hadn’t seen him since 2007, when they performed at Cedar Brook Park, in Plainfield, where it all began. That was the last time most of us saw Plainfield native Garry “Diaperman” Shider before his passing in 2010. With George’s upcoming retirement, I wanted one last chance to see them with their leader.
It occurred to me – couldn’t Plainfield do the same thing with George Clinton? Couldn’t Clinton Avenue – not too far from where Parliament Funkadelic began – be re-dedicated to the founder of Plainfield’s most famous and influential group?
Clinton Avenue is a major street in our city, one of Plainfield’s five main north-south thoroughfares. It’s better than, for example, establishing a commemorative George Clinton Way for a block or two.
Plus, no one’s address would have to change. In fact, the cash-strapped city might not even need new street signs – at least not right away. A decal on existing signs could do, in the interim. There could be a ceremony and we could all give George Clinton and Parliament their roses.
Of course, Clinton Avenue is already named after someone – likely DeWitt Clinton, New York City Mayor and state Governor. This industrialist was no William King – not by a long shot – but we have cancel culture now. It’s 2019. I’m sure we can find some excuse to ban a white male politician from the early 1800s. And if we can’t, DeWitt Clinton already has plenty named in his honor – the town of Clinton, NJ, to start. In fact there are at least 29 municipalities and counties named after this Clinton.
Unlike several cities in nearby Essex County, Plainfield doesn’t have a tradition of renaming its streets. Even post 1967, Plainfield institutions have long been dominated by a sort of bourgeois politics that harkens back to the Queen City, and looks fondly upon the names of the forefathers for which so many of our institutions are named. Let’s break that trend and make the obvious decision to recreate Plainfield in the image of many of those who live there.
Let’s start by naming Clinton Avenue after the most relevant Clinton – to us.