The change from Brady Street to M.B. Brady Street skirts the issue of the historic racism in Tulsa.
In 1898, Wyatt Tate Brady became a founding father of Tulsa, Oklahoma when he signed a charter to officially establish the new city. Born in Missouri in 1870, Brady moved to Oklahoma and married Rachel Cassandra Davis, who had ties to the Cherokee Nation. He later established the Brady Hotel after seeing an opportunity to capitalize on an influx of visitors that came along with Tulsa’s expanding market. During his life, Brady continued to build up the city, doing everything from sponsoring a newspaper to hiring a band that traveled cross-country promoting Tulsa. This was the history attributed to the namesake of Brady Street and Arts District until 2013.
This, however, is not indicative of everything in Wyatt Tate Brady’s past. In actuality, Brady’s contributions to Tulsa run deeper than the establishment of businesses. Rather, his extensive ties to the Ku Klux Klan and actions leading to the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre contributed to the racial divides which continue to plague the city today.
Brady repeatedly demonstrated his stance as a white supremacist. His father, H. H. Brady, fought as a Confederate soldier in the Civil War. Wyatt Brady was mentioned several times in the publication “Confederate Veteran” as a commander of the Oklahoma chapter of Sons of Confederate Veterans, which planned to institute an “active campaign throughout Oklahoma.”
In 1918, Brady helped plan the largest gathering of Confederate veterans since the Civil War. Other committee members in the planning of this 40,000-member meeting were R.M. McFarlin, Eugene Lorton and Earl P. Harwell, for whom the library, performing arts center, a couple academic buildings and athletics field are named at the University of Tulsa.
Beyond his active contributions to the Confederate cause, Brady admitted to being a member of the KKK and took part in the 1921 Race Massacre. When the riots broke out on May 31, Brady participated in the riots as a volunteer night watchmen along with several other white Tulsans. The massacre ultimately left 300 Black citizens dead.
After these events, Brady was appointed to the Tulsa Real Estate Exchange. The Exchange spearheaded a movement to segregate the town, telling a local newspaper, “we further believe that the two races being divided by an industrial section will draw more distinctive lines between them and thereby eliminate the intermingling of the lower elements of the two races.”
In 2011, Tulsa activists began to call for a name change of the Brady Street and Arts District. Two years later, a compromise was made. City Councilman James Ewing organized the movement to adjust the names of these prominent areas in town. In a seven-to-one vote, the council decided to rename Brady Street to M. B. Brady street, paying homage to notable popular Civil War photojournalist Mathew Brady rather than the city’s founder.
This intention was noble, but fell short of completely addressing the issue. Although Mathew Brady makes sense in the context of the Arts District, the photographer has no ties to Tulsa and never even visited Oklahoma. Rather than actually acknowledging the history of racism in Tulsa recognized by activists, the reassignment of names is a convenient way to deflect blame.
Advocates against the name change frequently argued that Brady was a significant part of Tulsa’s history and that the racism he stood for is no longer relevant because the city has left that sentiment behind. Regardless of Brady’s contributions to the history of Tulsa, the city needs to be held to a higher standard. If Brady is not held accountable for his actions, this sets a precedent for unacceptable behavior today. The air of racism established more than one hundred years ago has been inherited over generations and prevails today.
Throughout the last few years, several examples of this continued legacy have surfaced. Two years ago, videos were released of a Tulsa police officer killing Terence Crutcher, an unarmed black man, at close range. Just last year, an unidentified citizen posted several flyers advocating for white supremacy along Cherry Street.
In 2013, Alvin Watts and Jake England pled guilty to hate crimes committed in Tulsa. The two admitted to planning to shoot and kill five Black citizens, which led to the death of three men: William Allen, Bobby Clark and Dannaer Fields. They were killed Easter weekend in 2012. In spite of England expressing remorse about these heinous actions, his uncle testified that he had called the victims several racial slurs the day after having killed them. Watts and England will serve triple life sentences for first degree murder and hate crimes.
With this history in mind, a more recent movement toward a second name change is much more fitting. Ewing, the councilman who helped with the original name change, hopes to redress this “mediocre compromise” in a Nov. 7 council meeting. In spite of the $100,000 initiative to originally adjust the current M. B. Brady Street, Ewing hopes to fully embrace “Reconciliation Way,” which was an honorary name given to the street back in 2013.
The debate regarding this name change is not only a necessary step in moving towards a more welcoming environment but also in acknowledging mistakes in the past. While some argue that changing the street name is an attempt to revise history and ignore the past, these movements do not aim to erase anything, but rather to promote a more amicable present and future.