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Two sides to every story

DEPUE — The two sides still do not agree on whether the name of Negro Creek should be changed, but they do agree on at least two things.

First, they agree that regardless of what happens with the name, a plaque should be placed somewhere along Negro Creek honoring the Negro Creek name and its history. Second, both sides agree the Negro Creek name controversy has caused division among neighbors and friends.

About 12 people attended a two-hour meeting Saturday afternoon at the DePue First Congregational Church, organized by Phillip Mol, who is leading the movement to change the name of Negro Creek to something which that side of the issue would consider less offense. Among those in attendance were several people who do not consider Negro an offensive name and want to keep the creek's name as it is.

Coming from a neutral ground, Mike Kohr, who is a member of the Bureau County Board, said he was in favor of a middle ground and suggested the group look into erecting a plaque along the creek, giving the history of the creek's name and also the role African-Americans played in Bureau County history. To help make that happen, Kohrs said he would donate two months salary as a Bureau County Board member for a plaque project. Bureau County Board members get a $115 monthly compensation for committee and regular board meetings.

As a local historian, Sarah Cooper said her wish would be for something good to come out of the Negro Creek controversy, which could certainly include a plaque. As far as a potential name change, she didn't have a strong feeling one way or the other, she said.

In explaining the background for the proposed name change, Mol said he wouldn't have started the move to change the name if he hadn't kept hearing 'nigger' creek, and that bothered him as being offensive and racist. However, he believes the name change might need to be done as a statewide movement, which is similar to what happened in South Dakota when the state took the word "squaw" off state maps.

By going statewide, a bigger dialogue would be created, which would be a good thing, supporter Sharon Kopina said. Kohr also agreed, saying he could see the wisdom of getting dialogue from a larger audience.

From the opposing side, Carl Neuhalfen said if the change was attempted on the state level, the local people opposing the change would still fight it on the state level. Neuhalfen and opposition leader Chad Errio agreed they didn't care much what people outside the area thought about the name change.

Opposition member Gerald Canova, through whose property Negro Creek runs, said he's proud of the name and wouldn't call it by any other name, regardless of what may be decided. Changing the name would be like trying to change history, he said.

In response, Roger Spayer said changing the name of Negro Creek wasn't an attempt to change history but rather an attempt to change the future. There is value in knowing history, but not necessarily in maintaining it, if it can be changed to create a more positive perception, he said.

However, Spayer said he would rather see the name change remain a local issue, and he would hate to see the area torn apart by the controversy.

In response, Neuhalfen said the issue has already created a division between friends and neighbors.
Both sides agreed some comments posted on the Internet were unnecessary and had done a lot of damage on both sides. Some people are just in it for the fight, Neuhalfen said.

After further discussion, the group agreed to continue its dialogue on the second Saturday of March with another community meeting.

After the meeting, Mol said he is not going forward at this time with a state level movement to remove progress in communication that was made that day, he said.

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