City councilor defends complicated legacy of early Tulsan Tate Brady, despite his being a ‘Ku Klux Klanner’

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Interim city councilor Karen O’Brien. Courtesy
An interim Tulsa city councilor on Wednesday argued against changing a downtown street name, saying that although the street’s former namesake was a “Ku Klux Klanner,” he also did “many many other good things.”

Karen O’Brien, councilor for District 3, said during the Urban/Economic Development meeting on Wednesday that there were “many reasons” why she was against changing the name of M.B. Brady Street to Reconciliation Way, an idea proposed last month by outgoing District 4 City Councilor Blake Ewing. M.B. Brady Street — previously named Brady Street — runs through the Greenwood District downtown, home of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, and was originally named after Tate Brady, an influential early Tulsan. Brady also was found to have been in the KKK for a time and was allegedly part of the Tulsa Outrage, where a group of men were tarred and feathered by a group of which he was included.

“I understand the issue … about Mr. Brady being a Ku Klux Klanner,” O’Brien said during the meeting. “But he also did many many other good things, and that gets pushed to one side.”

O’Brien then compared Brady’s complicated legacy to that of a math teacher who correctly completes an equation despite making a mistake early on.

“There’s a error in the mathematics, but the rest of it … is correct. The students only look at the error. That’s what we are doing these days, we are only looking at the error.”

Posted by Tulsa City Council on Wednesday, November 7, 2018

(skip to the 1:15:00 mark to see the relevant portion of the video)

O’Brien’s defense of Brady’s legacy is oddly timed as the street no longer actually bears his name. It was changed in 2013 to be named after M.B. Brady, a Civil War photographer with no ties to Tulsa. That name change was a compromise that came after Brady’s KKK history was discovered. Various other names were floated at the time, but some citizens (and councilors) bucked against the idea of the change, with many business owners not wanting to have to pay to change their signage and update mailing information.

O’Brien is on the city council only in an interim basis as she stepped in to replace the late David Patrick after Patrick’s death in September.

Ewing proposed to change the name of the street in October to Reconciliation Way. A portion of M.B. Brady Street also bears Reconciliation Way signage as an honorary symbol to the work needing to be done to promote racial healing and was part of the 2013 compromise.

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Brady has slowly been phased out of the north downtown district that used to bear his name. Formerly called “The Brady District,” it is now officially termed the “Tulsa Arts District.” But other symbols still remain, such as the Brady Theater, which was used as a detention center for black Tulsans during the Race Massacre, or an honorary star with Brady’s name on it outside Cain’s Ballroom.

Ewing told The Frontier last month that the 2013 compromise to rename the street after M.B. Brady was one of his “biggest regrets,” and that he wanted to rectify that decision before he left the council.

“I look back and wish I would have done something different,” Ewing told The Frontier last month.

What’s in a name? As ‘Tulsa Arts District’ grows, W. Tate Brady symbols survive

“I think I underestimated the black community at the time. 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 during Wednesday’s meeting that he was “down to have a public discussion” about the name change, and “was hopeful that we are in a better place than we were a few years ago.”

“And I still believe we are. I cannot understand for the life of me why anyone would argue against it,” Ewing said.

Ewing said he could “find the money” to offset the cost to business owners who would have to change signage because of the potential name change.

As time on council nears an end, Ewing proposes another name change to controversial downtown street

O’Brien said during Wednesday’s meeting that only a “small group of people” were in favor of changing the name of the street, as opposed to “the majority of the people.”

O’Brien said that she had done a “cursory look at what happened after 1921” after the Tulsa Race Massacre and that the Greenwood District thrived in the years following and that “we don’t hear about the good things that happened afterwards to the people who were involved” in the Race Massacre. “All we hear about are the negatives and that frustrates me to no end.”

O’Brien said that the Tulsa Arts District is “only profitable” due to business investment in the area, and that she believed that profitability was the reason for the desire for the name change.

“Gee this is a popular place, let’s rename the street,” she said.

Ewing replied that the name change proposal was more likely due to Brady’s involvement in the Klan.

“Again,” O’Brien said, “that’s one aspect of his life.”

“All of us have aspects of our life that are not positives,” she said.

“With all due respect,” Ewing said in reply, “(Brady) didn’t slip and fall into the Ku Klux Klan. It wasn’t a mistake.”

“How do you know,” O’Brien asked. “Were you alive at that time?”

No decision on the street name change was made on Wednesday. Ewing set a vote for Nov. 28.

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Dylan Goforth

Editor in Chief/Staff Writer

Dylan is a news junkie and QuikTrip addict. He spends too much time on Twitter, but has launched what will be a failed attempt to cut back in 2018. Contact: dylan@readfrontier.com or 918-931-9405.
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