BY JUSTIN SABATA
A portion of road in Hays has been under recent scrutiny given its controversial namesake. Noose Road, which stretches west of town, is reportedly named for the 1869 lynching of three black soldiers by Hays townspeople. The soldiers, who were stationed at Fort Hays, were accused of murder.
The recommendation to visit the issue came from Ellis County Public Works Director Bill Ring, who asked for it to be added to Monday’s meeting agenda.
Three individuals took the stand to voice their opinions to the commission. The first was John T. Bird, an Ellis County resident who has lived on Noose Road throughout his life. Bird described to the commissioners the sense of personal embarrassment he has with the road’s name.
“When I recently moved back out to the farm, I had to register to vote, and it requires that you give a physical address where you reside,” Bird said. “And, that’s the first time I had had to write that (street name) down on a piece of paper. I hate having to order anything delivered out there.”
Bird wrote a letter to the commission earlier last week urging for Noose Road to be renamed.
The second speaker was Gail Palmberg, a current resident of the road. Unlike Bird, Palmberg believes the road should not be changed, citing social media as the reason for the recent local outrage.
“To me, before the social media outburst, there was no problem with Noose Road,” Palmberg said. “To me, a noose is a rope with a knot in it. What you do with it, that’s your choice.”
Palmberg continued to question the recent calls for the name change.
“It’s always been Noose Road; it’s been there for 30 years,” Palmberg said. “Black Matter Lives (sic) came up earlier; nothing was ever said about Noose Road. But, all of a sudden, now it’s bad.”
Palmberg also discussed the difficulties current residents might have changing their addresses.
“Changing addresses, that is complicated,” Palmberg said. “It’s not just changing your checkbook. You got credit cards, businesses, insurance, banks and passports.”
The third person to approach the podium was Paul Brull, who first stated he was representing both he and his grandfather, TMP science educator Randy Brull. Brull described the roots his family has in Ellis County, then explained his stance on the issue.
“I personally think that when it comes to the issue of Noose Road, it’s incredibly important that the name be changed,” Brull said. “Because the historical context of it was named specifically after the lynchings that happened in the context of this town.”
Brull also made the point that the history of the road cannot be forgotten altogether, but also explained the ramifications that could come if the name stayed.
“The historical context behind it can’t be removed,” Brull said. “And, to simply ignore that and step past it is to acknowledge and allow racism within our community.”
After hearing from the public, the Ellis County commissioners then voiced their own opinions, all agreeing Noose Road needs to be renamed.
“The idea was due process,” said Second District Commissioner Dustin Roths. “The people who were killed on that bridge were not given due process.”
Roths, when addressing the vandalized historical marker that used to stand there, also agreed the history of the bridge should not be lost.
“We should not forget history, because we don’t want that kind of history to ever repeat itself,” Roths said. “But I never want anybody to feel unwelcome in Ellis County, Kansas.”
First District Commissioner Butch Schlyer was also in favor of the name change, observing the rise in social awareness seen in the country today.
“Our culture is just becoming increasingly sensitive to a lot of issues,” Schlyer said. “And, given all of that, I’m in favor of changing this name. I don’t think it does anyone any good to have this name as it is.”
A resolution will be put in place to change the street to Rome Avenue. This new name is an ode to the 1860’s settlement near what was once called Hays City. The town, the first in what would eventually become Ellis County, was supposedly co-founded by William “Buffalo Bill” Cody, though official founders have never been determined.