Starting this summer, Utahns will be able to pick a new license plate honoring Martin Luther King Jr.
Sen. Luz Escamilla (D-Salt Lake City), who co-sponsored a bill for the plate in the state’s 2020 legislative session, said it is the perfect time for the plate to be released because King’s message of equality and justice is needed in the United States.
“We lack tolerance,” she said. “His message needs ... to come back.”
The new plate, which features different hands joining together around a drawing of the state, was designed by 18-year-old Eleanor Smith, a senior at Timpview High School.
The Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Commission hosted a contest for 7th-12th grade students to submit designs for the plate in November and December. Smith said she entered the contest after seeing an advertisement for it on Facebook.
Although she has not taken many art classes, Smith said she has been creating art on her own for many years. She said it took her a while to think of an image to fit the plate’s motto of “Many Voices, One Utah,” but finally decided on the hands to represent unity among Utahns. She said she found out she had won a few days ago via email and was really surprised and excited.
Smith doesn’t have her driver’s license yet, but says she hopes to get the plate she designed on her car in the future.
Elected officials have been trying to get a plate honoring King as an option for drivers since 2012, when former Representative Rebecca Chavez-Houck (D-Salt Lake City) and former Senator Howard Stephenson (R-Draper) co-sponsored a bill in support of the new plate.
Working out the logistics of the plate took a while.
It was originally supposed to be a specialized plate that would raise money for civil rights organizations. However, the bill’s supporters were unable to get enough people to commit to buying the new plate, according to Utah Department of Heritage & Arts spokesman Josh Loftin. Instead the MLK Commission raised the money needed to fund the start-up costs of the plate so that people don’t have to pay as much for it. It will cost only $5 more than a default license plate. The bill for the plate was amended accordingly in 2020.
Chavez-Houck was part of a group of elected officials that helped select the plate. She said the state’s Division of Motor Vehicles provided input on which designs would be most practical for a license plate. She said she is excited that students were able to participate in the plate’s creation, and is happy with the winning design.
“I am looking forward to having it for my own car,” she said. “It’s a long time (coming) and I’m glad it’s finally happening.”