City Council asked to ditch ‘Coon Creek’

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Local News

November 26, 2019 - 10:31 AM

On the same night USD 257 school board members agreed to eventually remove the “Fillies” moniker for Iola High School girls sports teams, Iola City Council members were asked to reconsider naming Coon Creek back to its original name — Small Creek.

The waterway zigzags through residential neighborhoods in north Iola before eventually emptying into the Neosho River.

Council members discussed the pros and cons of such a change before agreeing they’d like to hear from others in town before making a decision at their Dec. 9 meeting.

 

IOLA HIGH School senior Allie Utley — who also kick-started the Fillies-Mustangs debate — approached City Council members Monday about the creek.

It was known as Small Creek in Iola’s earliest years, but at some point was changed to Coon Creek between 1895 and 1900.

She recounted an incident over the summer, when she and a group of friends had asked a resident for directions.

“Take a left, head down Lincoln Street, and it’s just past Coon Creek,” the man replied.

“I distinctly remember all of us looking at one another in immense confusion, almost like we didn’t believe what the man had said,” Utley said.

In doing further research, Utley said she discovered the creek did not get its name for raccoons, but rather for the derogatory slur against African-Americans. She traced the word’s genesis to “barracoon,” an enclosure formerly used for temporary confinement of slaves or convicts.

She noted the creek’s name was changed from Small Creek to Coon Creek around 1900, when a proliferation of African-Americans began settling the area. 

Within a 10-year period, the black population of Allen County skyrocketed from 28 to 1,320, Utley noted, most of whom made their homes in Iola.

She found an Iola Register clipping from that era describing the neighborhood. 

“He thus obtained fine views of Coon Creek, the Negro shanties and the freight cars,” Utley read. 

“This was the type of language that was acceptable to put in newspapers in the early 1900s, around the same time period Coon Creek was given its new name,” Utley said. “But this is the 21st century.

“It’s time we restore justice to this historical trauma that our community has forced upon an entire race. So I urge the council to consider renaming this body of water and take the first bold steps into a more accepting and caring future for all.”

 

COUNCIL members — and others in the audience — were split.

“I’ve lived here 10 years, and I’ve never heard a complaint (about Coon Creek) once,” Councilman Ron Ballard said. “What happens next? Are we going to rename White Boulevard? Where are we going to draw the line? Just because one person has a complaint on something, we’re going to go through and start renaming things?”

“What could have been OK 10 years ago may not be OK today,” Councilman Chase Martin replied.

Mayor Jon Wells also responded to Ballard’s comments, noting White Boulevard was likely named after a person.

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