TULSA, Okla. (AP) — The Tulsa City Council has postponed a vote on whether to rename a street named for a town founder who was a member of the Ku Klux Klan and has been implicated in a deadly race riot nearly a century ago.
Dozens of residents spoke at the almost three-hour hearing Thursday, with a majority saying a change was needed to shake perceptions that the city is still racially divided. Supporters of changing Brady Street — many wearing black T-shirts emblazoned with “#RENAME BRADY” — outnumbered opponents of the name switch nearly 40-8 as they addressed the council.
The street’s namesake, Wyatt Tate Brady, was a shoe salesman who became a prominent Tulsa businessman. He signed the city’s incorporation papers, started a newspaper and pumped his wealth into promoting Tulsa to the rest of the country.
But Brady, the son of a Confederate veteran, was also a member of the Klan. New questions arose after a magazine article looked at whether he was involved in the most notorious event in Tulsa history: a 1921 race riot that left some 300 black residents dead.
After the public hearing, the council reached a 4-4 tie based on the debate but decided to delay a formal vote until next week because a ninth councilman, who could break the tie, was absent.
Today, Brady Street cuts through the heart of the Brady Arts District, a glitzy downtown area that represents arguably the most successful redevelopment project the city has ever pursued.
Boarded-up warehouses, overgrown lots and blight have been replaced with trendy bistros, a cigar bar and a museum and park honoring Dust Bowl music legend Woody Guthrie.
Supporters have been lobbying for the name change since 2011, when an article in the literary magazine This Land said Brady created an environment of racism that led to the 1921 riot that decimated a thriving district that historians have called Black Wall Street.
Those who want to leave the name alone, including a contingent of the Brady district’s business owners, warn a name change could lead to a revisionist look at other notable residents who have parks, buildings and streets named after them.
Councilman Jack Henderson, the lone black councilman who had lobbied for the name change, expressed displeasure after the 4-4 split.
“This is the craziest thing I ever heard in my life,” he said. “We had an opportunity to do right here tonight.”
Keeping the Brady name, supporters of the change said, was a way to illustrate that the city, in their view, was still divided by race.
“It’s a racially divided city; we don’t want to admit it, but it is,” said Chris Brown, a Tulsa native who is black. “This is what we’ve been reduced to: asking for a street name.”
The small opposition of those who wanted to keep the Brady name told councilors that leaving it would be a chance to learn from the past, not scrub it from history.
Joel Wright, a salon owner in the Brady district, said he was “ashamed and embarrassed” by the constant questioning about where he does business.
“Erasing the past does not work,” said Wright, who is white. “Keeping the street is a reminder to us all of our past.”
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.