In this June 27, 2013 file photo, people walk past The Tavern in the Brady Arts District in Tulsa, Okla. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)
TULSA, Okla. (AP) – The name Brady that adorns a popular downtown street in Tulsa will remain the same but instead of honoring the city’s founder and businessman who was in the Ku Klux Klan it will now celebrate a Civil War photographer who had the same name.
The change to remove Wyatt Tate Brady as the street’s namesake and replace it with Mathew Brady, a 19th century photographer best known for his images of American Civil War battlefields was approved Thursday night by the Tulsa City Council in a 7-1 vote after weeks of heated debate throughout the city.
In addition, signs that read “Reconciliation Way” will be placed atop street signs throughout the Brady Arts District, a successful downtown redevelopment project.
The compromise plan was suggested by Councilor Blake Ewing, who said the change would retain the district’s name without honoring the former namesake.
“This has been a pretty intense community conversation,” Ewing said while introducing his plan. “Really extreme emotion on both sides.”
The plan was endorsed by Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett. Last week, the council deadlocked on changing the name of Brady to Burlington.
“The world is watching, they’re watching what happens in Tulsa, Okla.,” Ewing said.
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.
Activists had called for a new name 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 and left an estimated 300 Black residents dead.
In this June 1, 1921, photo provided by the Tulsa Historical Society smoke rises over Tulsa’s Greenwood District during race riots which left 300 Blacks dead and hundreds more wounded in a span of 18 hours. (AP Photo/Tulsa Historical Society)
In this June 1, 1921, photo provided by the Tulsa Historical Society are businesses that were burned and looted in Tulsa’s Greenwood District during race riots that left 300 Blacks dead and hundreds more wounded in a span of 18 hours. (AP Photo/Tulsa Historical Society)
Those who wanted to leave the name alone include some of the Brady district’s business owners. They argued that a name change could lead to a revisionist look at other notable residents who have parks, buildings and streets named after them.
“Brady Street should be an example to the world of what reconciliation should look like,” Ewing said.
But not everyone agreed that the compromise change solved the problem. Several residents at the City Council meeting said the change seemed superficial to them.
“Take the Brady name down, period, and bury it with Tate Brady. That’s where it belongs,” James Johnson told KOTV.
Ewing said changing the street’s name to honor Mathew Brady, a native of New York, will pay homage to an artist in a district that promotes the arts.
“I don’t know that this is perfect, but it’s better than staying what it is,” he said. “This was our effort at compromise.”
The operators of two businesses in the area said they believe changing the street’s name was unnecessary.
“I was fine with the way it was,” said Chad Rodgers, general manager of Cain’s Ballroom, a music venue housed in a structure built in 1924 to serve as a garage for Wyatt Tate Brady.
“I think it was silly,” Rodgers said. “History is in the past and we’ve moved on. We can’t rewrite history. We’ve all come such a long way from how it was.”
Nina Weiss, co-owner of Classic Cigar and Lounge, said the district is one of the most culturally and racially diverse areas she has ever seen.
“Stuff that happened to Tate Brady, that was 100 years ago. Who should care about that?” she said.