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Controversial name, history of Johnson County creek leads to possible name change

"Negro Creek" in Johnson County, Kansas
Posted at 2:41 AM, Aug 26, 2021

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Negro Creek in Johnson County is unknown to many, including Jay Holbert, the president of the NAACP branch in Johnson County.

Until recently.

“I didn’t even know we had a creek like that running through here, but the more you read about it and research it, there’s a lot of things that we really don’t know,” Holbert said.

The creek's history is gruesome.

“In a newspaper from the late 1870s, and in the reference it talks about this really horrible story of an enslaved man who had escaped from Missouri into Kansas. Just barely into Kansas. It appears he was cornered by the men who were pursuing him and rather than be taken back into slavery into Missouri, he chose to slit his own throat,” said Dr. Diane Mutti-Burke, a professor of history at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

It had a different name after that event, but the meaning was similar.

“It didn’t change until the 60s to Negro Creek because I think it was a federal ordinance or something that went out that all things that were named the N-word had to be changed to Negro and I guess they thought that would be less offensive,” Holbert said.

However, after extensive research was gathered by community members and Mutti-Burke, the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners will hear a presentation Thursday about a possible renaming of Negro Creek.

“Myself and other members of the committee will be presenting the path that we have gone down and investigating the history of naming Negro Creek, which goes back in the record that we have found back in the 1850s, to try to get to the core of where this name comes from,” said Joe Water, Assistant County Manager for Johnson County.

Holbert says if Negro Creek does get a name change, the history of what happened there should not be lost with the name.

“History is history. When you start erasing it or writing over it, or trying to change it, that’s when you mess up, that’s when you lose the value of everything that people have actually worked for,” Holbert said.