KC creek will keep name as nod to its grisly past

Waterway to retain Negro Creek moniker.


State News

May 19, 2023 - 3:23 PM

Negro Creek flows near 151st Street in Leawood and Overland Park. It has had that name at least since the 1850s, but back then the name was a racial epithet. Photo by KANSAS CITY STAR/TAMMY LJUNGBLAD/TNS

Despite calls to rename Johnson County, Kansas’ Negro Creek, a committee has decided to keep the controversial name, worried that removing it would erase a painful piece of history.

Many Johnson County residents spent years unaware of the small, unmarked creek that flows through a golf course in Leawood and in southern Overland Park, in one of the most affluent areas of Kansas’ wealthiest county. But a couple of years ago, activists brought attention to the tributary and the mystery behind its troubling name, calling on leaders to remove it.

The name, historians have discovered, most likely came from a story passed down for generations, of an enslaved man who ran away from the Missouri farm of a prominent and notoriously violent family. The man was tracked along the Blue River as he fled toward Kansas and made it to a tributary across the state line. The story goes that he chose to die by suicide there rather than be recaptured and return to a life of slavery.

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