A grassroots group made up of members from the community spent more than two years researching the history of Negro Creek, including the origin of the name, and contemplated making a formal request to have the creek renamed.
On April 26, 2023, a majority of the community members reached consensus to not request a renaming for the creek, but instead to tell and preserve the creek’s story uncovered by research.
What led to the decision
Researchers conducted a two-phase historical research process (two phases due to research tools unavailable during COVID-19) producing a report regarding the origin of the creek name.
No definitive story has been substantiated, but there is a published story in the 1870’s, decades after the creek had been named. It mentions a horrific ending of life for an enslaved person pursued from Missouri along the creek by their enslavers.
The creek is one of six geographic places in five Kansas counties, including Johnson County, and 757 sites in the nation with Negro or a related term in their names.
The small waterway meanders through several neighborhoods and a few small parks in southern Overland Park and Leawood, including portions of the Iron Horse Golf Course.
Negro Creek, in Johnson County, Kansas, is a tributary to the Blue River. The headwaters originate near 151st Street and Antioch Road in Overland Park.
The main stem flows generally east for 4 miles through the City of Leawood, to its confluence with the Blue River near 151st Street and Kenneth Road just west of the State Line. Its watershed encompasses 8.6 miles.
Renaming the Creek
Changing the name would have required support for the chosen new name by community organizations, two city governments, the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners and state agencies.
The U.S. Board on Geographic Names, a federal agency, has the final say on standardizing geographic names in the nation and typically changes a name only if local support for the change is strong. Once an application for a new name has been submitted, the process can take up to six months for a decision.
What is next?
Overland Park and Leawood have agreed to place signs along the creek that tell the story as we know it. A group will be formed with representation from Leawood, Overland Park and Johnson County to decide placement of signs, sign design and cost sharing. Once signs are in place, there will be a recognition ceremony. No timeline has been established, yet work will begin soon.
The group has stayed in contact with the U.S. Board of Geographic Names and the Department of Interior, who have jurisdiction over creek namings. In the future, there could be a federal requirement of a name change for all places with the word Negro in them. The community members would want to be a part of that discussion and utilize the research done to help craft a new name.
Warning, the following documents contain graphic descriptions of a violent historical event, and include and reference a newspaper article from 1879 which contains offensive language that has been redacted.
- Johnson County moving forward with potential name change to creek many find offensive
- The Best Times
- Summer 2021 JoCo Magazine
- Historical or just offensive? Johnson County’s Negro Creek is long overdue for a new name
- Johnson County does deep dive into history of Negro Creek ahead of potential name change
- The push is on to change the name of Johnson County creek
- Push continues to change name of Johnson County creek that many find offensive
- Kansas county mulls changing creek’s racially loaded name
- Creek Topo Map in Johnson County KS