Getting on the right side of history



November 27, 2019 - 10:32 AM

Iola founders named the small stream that meanders through town, Small Creek.

Here in the Register newsroom, we’re pretty much split between holding on to the Fillies as the Iola High School girls mascot or lumping them in with the Mustangs.

Sports editor Erick Mitchell heavily favors keeping the Fillies moniker. “I’m a traditionalist,” he said.

Horse enthusiast and reporter Vickie Moss likes the inclusion, saying, “There’s no need to have the complication of multiple mascots.” She swayed me over when she said a mustang is simply a small, spirited horse, regardless of its sex.

Reporter Eric Spruill, diplomatic Oklahoman that he is, says he doesn’t want to take sides, but does anyway by saying, “If it were my school, I’d be upset.”

And ever-efficient reporter Richard Luken prefers Fillies because it takes up less space in a headline, though he does like the ring of “Lady Stangs,” which totally deflates his first argument. 

I’d never given any thought to the issue until IHS student Allie Utley brought it to the public’s attention with a column in the Register.

But it wasn’t until Utley appeared before Iola Council members to suggest changing Coon Creek back to its original name of Small Creek, that I began to think about what side of history I want to be on.

The easy way is, “That’s the way it’s always been.” The right way is, “That’s the way it should be.”

Utley gave her elders a history lesson Monday night. “Coon” is a derivative of “barracoon,” an enclosure formerly used for the temporary confinement of slaves or convicts.

That’s the nice version. 

“Coon” is also a demeaning term that portrays African Americans as simple-minded caricatures. 

Small Creek’s name was changed to the derogatory slur in the early 1900s when a community of African Americans began settling along the banks of the stream.

Utley referred to 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.” Such language was common for the day, Utley said, “But this is the 21st century.”


This is not simply an effort to be politically correct; but rather to recognize the hate such racist terms imply. I feel the same way about people displaying the Confederate flag. Yes, it recognizes part of our country’s heritage, but it clearly references a shameful and brutally violent time when whites regarded Negroes as less than property. 

So the proper way to view the Confederate flag is in a museum with the inscription: “This flag represents white supremacy, a sickness that caused the Civil War, 1861-1865, and continues to inflict damage today.”

It’s by using such symbols and phrases as “Coon Creek” that the embers of hate and divisiveness continue to burn. To refuse to change what we know is wrong and hurtful would show we have learned nothing.