Offensively named Illinois creek now will honor Black settler: ‘I couldn’t be more happy’

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DePUE — Negro Creek might have brought Geneva Klinefelter to tears in years past. But last week, Adams Creek brought Klinefelter tears of joy.

Adams Creek is the new name of what for generations had been called Negro Creek in eastern Bureau County. During a meeting last week, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names voted 14-0 to rename it for the area’s first Black settler.

Former Bureau County resident Amy Urbanowski petitioned the federal board regarding the name change. She received help from Charlie Klinefelter, Geneva Klinefelter’s husband. They believed the previous name was offensive and racially insensitive.

Previously:‘Violence, trauma, pain’: After 200 years, racially insensitive Illinois creek name may change

‘Maybe people will see that and start acting kinder’

The Klinefelters reside in DePue, a village near where the creek flows into the Illinois River north of Peoria. Geneva Klinefelter is one of few in DePue who is Black. She considers the name change plenty of cause for celebration.

"It is so wonderful. I couldn’t be more happy," said Klinefelter, who with her husband cried when they heard the news. "I know it’s just baby steps, but it’s a step in the right direction. And maybe people will see that and start acting kinder."

Kindness toward minority groups is something Klinefelter hasn’t always noticed in and around DePue, where she’s lived for more than a quarter-century. The Louisiana native resided previously in San Diego, where she met her husband.

Moving from a major metropolitan area to a rural village of about 1,700 residents, Charlie Klinefelter’s home area, was a culture shock.

"It was so much different in San Diego," Geneva Klinefelter said. "Even though they might have been biased and prejudiced, they were not out in the open. Here, it’s just like they show you what they feel."

The path of Negro Creek in eastern Bureau County.

‘It really did not sit well with me’

Klinefelter knew exactly how she felt when her husband first told her the creek’s previous name. Adams, whose first name appears lost to history, built a cabin in 1829 at the creek mouth, about 50 miles upstream from Peoria.

Some area residents have referred to the creek by using a racial slur. Among them were Frank Cattani, the village president of Ladd, another Bureau County community located near the creek. He used the slur during a Ladd Village Board meeting in August.

"I couldn’t believe there was a creek named (expletive) creek," Geneva Klinefelter said. "I was very hurt. It just really did not sit well with me."

Geneva Klinefelter

Although DePue has a significant minority population — mostly Hispanics and Asians — racial incidents there over the years haven’t been uncommon, according to Klinefelter.

She said she reacts to them by referencing her faith and what she’s learned on her job, as a sales clerk at a department store in Peru.

"I try to live by the Golden Rule," Klinefelter said. "I don’t know why we all just can’t live in this world and be happy and try to be nice to each other.

"I try to treat people with respect, but they don’t always respect me. I don’t retaliate or get upset about it. I let the Lord handle things for me."

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A plaque on a bridge west of Ladd signifies the location of Negro Creek.

The U.S. geographic-names board is to handle formal notification regarding the name change, which the Bureau County Board backed. The new name is to be listed in the federal database and on new maps.

Klinefelter said the previous name affected her family, which includes six children. But she said she considers her husband a hero because of his name-change advocacy, which includes an unsuccessful attempt about a decade ago.

As for the successful attempt, Geneva Klinefelter said she realizes some locals don’t approve and still might continue to refer to the creek by its original name. Again, her reaction is faith-based.

"I get on my knees and pray," Klinefelter said.

Nick in the Morning

via Peoria Journal Star

October 19, 2021 at 09:16AM

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