A Coon Rapids nonprofit is leading an effort to let voters decide whether the city should be renamed, after decades of discussion about whether to eliminate the name's racist connotation.
The nonprofit Transformative Circle launched an informal survey this month to gauge interest in changing the city's name. Founder and Director Lori Anderson said the survey is all about starting a conversation.
"I've been wanting to change the name since I moved here 33 years ago," she said. "I learned very quickly to say 'Minneapolis' when someone asks me where I'm from."
Coon Rapids' name is derived from Coon Creek, where landowners in the early 1800s hunted an abundance of raccoons for pelts, according to the city's website.
But the name also includes a racial slur. The Jim Crow Museum at Michigan's Ferris State University describes "coon" as a stock character in minstrel performances and "the most blatantly degrading of all Black stereotypes."
Derrick Biney, a minister at Kingdom Covenant International Fellowship in Coon Rapids, said that if you remove the word "rapids" the city's name is racist.
"As an African American male … 'coon' triggers a bad name," he said. "It's obviously meant for a raccoon, for sure, but it was used for African Americans. Obviously it's dehumanizing."
Transformative Circle's survey was open for five days, during which 464 people responded, with 38% in favor of changing the name and 62% opposed. Fewer than half of the respondents live in Coon Rapids, while about 20% shop or conduct business there and 8% work there.
Anderson said some respondents who shared why they are in favor of changing the name "spoke of embarrassment at the name, humiliation of having to explain the origin of the name knowing that the word … is also used as a racial slur."
Some commented that they didn't know the name included a disparaging term.
The question of changing the city's name first emerged in September 1968, when the council approved a study to look into what it would take to change the name. That November, a referendum asked voters, "Should the name of Coon Rapids be changed to some other name?" Overwhelmingly, the measure was shot down, with 6,634 voting no and 1,930 voting for a name change.
In 1986, the city revisited the name by surveying 100 manufacturing firm executives and development professionals to better understand Coon Rapids' "image problem." One in four respondents said Coon Rapids is a "lousy name" that conjures images of "blue collar" and "out in the sticks," despite its proximity to the Twin Cities.
There are two avenues to change the name: petition to get it on the 2022 ballot, which Anderson said would require 7,200 signatures. Or, she said, the City Council could move to change it.
Mayor Jerry Koch declined to comment on new efforts to change the city's name.
Newly elected City Council Member Kari Rehrauer is the only vocal supporter on the council for changing the name. The city's name should reflect its growing diversity, she said.
About 8% of Coon Rapids' population identifies as Black or African American, according to the U.S. census.
The last time a council member supported the name change effort was in 2006, when then-member Joe Sidoti proposed a change; the idea was withdrawn after public protest.
"We haven't had much of a movement on making progress on racial and social justice since then," Rehrauer said. "The murder of George Floyd last spring has brought to the forefront that there is still systemic racism in our society, in our country and in Minnesota."
Kim Hyatt • 612-673-4751