Supervisor starts conversation about county's namesake

Richard Mentor Johnson, the namesake of Johnson County, is depicted on the Freedom Rock in Solon's American Legion Park.

Rod Sullivan has been a Johnson County supervisor for 13 years - but it wasn't until recently that he learned a little more about the man the county is named after.

"Just so happened that I read a book where he was prominently featured," Sullivan said on Monday, "so I started doing a little more research and just thought 'Maybe this is something we can talk about.'"

Richard Mentor Johnson was the ninth Vice President of the United States under Martin Van Buren - and became the county's namesake when it was founded in 1837.

"He's got a mixed and troubled history," Sullivan said, "but so do a lot of people in that era."

"Colonel Johnson was very adamantly anti-Native American and took pride in the fact that he personally had killed - he says thousands of Native Americans himself," he added. "He was the father of two daughters who were slaves of his - and he let it be known that they were slaves of his - but then he also paid for their education."

Sullivan says he's not trying to change the name of the county - saying trying to do that would be "a nightmare" - but he wants to give residents the chance to learn about Johnson.

"Nothing may come of this - and frankly, I'd be surprised if something did - but it's not bad for us to have a conversation," he said. "I'll bet most people never had any idea who this county was named after or anything about him."

"I'm just gonna ask folks what they think about it and if they wanna have it on an agenda," Sullivan said, "and if folks do, we will."

CBS 2/FOX 28 also spoke with members of the American Legion in Solon, where Johnson is depicted on a Freedom Rock in the Legion park. The commander of the Legion said they would not support the change.

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