A few short months away from the end of his tenure on the city council, District 4 representative Blake Ewing is seeking to reverse one of his “biggest regrets” and proposed Friday to change the name of a controversial downtown street.
The ordinance change, which appeared on a city agenda Friday, seeks to change the name of M.B. Brady Street to Reconciliation Way.
The street for years had been named Brady Street after notable early Tulsan W. Tate Brady. Brady was a prominent Tulsan who signed the city’s incorporation papers and helped grow Tulsa into a vibrant town. But in 2012 now defunct publication This Land Press discovered that Brady had been a member of Tulsa’s early Ku Klux Klan chapter.
No longer wanting to honor Brady with a street name in one of Tulsa’s most vibrant districts, the city set out to change it. But political will — and maybe political courage, Ewing has said — ran out, and officials hedged: The street was renamed “M.B. Brady Street,” after a Civil War photographer who had likely never set foot in Tulsa.
On top of each street sign within the Inner Dispersal Loop a separate sign was added calling the thoroughfare “Reconciliation Way.”
The name change garnered national attention, and Ewing later said he regretted the compromise. Now with time running out on his turn as a councilor, he told The Frontier he’d like to “go back and fix” what he refers to as a mistake.
“I look back and wish I would have done something different,” Ewing said. The “M.B. Brady Street” name change passed by a 7-1 vote with one councilor abstaining. Former councilor David Patrick, who died earlier this year, was the lone no vote.
Arianna Moore was absent from the vote that day, and left the council not long after. As fate would have it, Moore recently re-joined the council on a temporary basis to replace former councilor Anna America and will again be asked to vote for the name change.
Ewing said that had he taken a hard line in 2013 and pressed at the time for a vote on a full name change, rather than a mostly ceremonial one, the measure would have failed 5-4.
But maybe it should have, he said.
“Looking back, I think it would have been better to have the council vote no and for me to be a yes vote,” he said.
“I think I underestimated the black community at the time,” Ewing said. “I was so concerned with them being sent out of that building having lost … that when a compromise came up, I considered it better than a no vote.”
Ewing said that over the years, and particularly since that vote, he’s had an opportunity to meet and grow friendships with many of the same citizens who rallied for the proposed name change.
“Those friendships grew and I really appreciated what I’ve learned,” he said. “They told me that they didn’t want me to vote for a lame compromise … they said ‘You know, we’ve lost before and we’ll lose again, but we’ll keep fighting.’”
At the time, much of the public pushback was from business owners in what was called The Brady Arts District, who pushed back against the name change arguing that they would have to foot the bill for postage and signage changes at their businesses.
But over time former hardliners have apparently softened. The business district voted last year to rename itself the “Tulsa Arts District, erasing Brady’s name entirely.
So maybe it’s time for the street to face the same fate, Ewing said.
“I don’t like that every time I drive down that street, I have to see the results of that lame compromise,” he said. “Times have changed. The district has changed. I think we’re growing up. We’re healing, slowly, but healing. I think if I can leave the council moving us forward I would consider that a real privilege.
“The thing I like about naming it ‘Reconciliation Way’ is that it doesn’t mean we’ve reconciled,” Ewing said. “Reconciliation is an ongoing process that we will still be going through years into the future.”
The fact that the street, which connects the Tulsa Arts District to the Greenwood District, the site of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, is not lost on Ewing.
“I’d rather when people drive down that street that it’s a reminder of the work to do rather than that lukewarm compromise,” he said.
“I don’t want to have a big public debate about the name. I’m going to lay it out and say this is it. Hopefully it works.”