Last night, the Tulsa City Council voted 7-1 to change the name of downtown’s “Brady Street” to “M.B. Brady Street” and to add an honorary name, Reconciliation Way. The street was originally named after a Tulsa city founder, Tate Brady, who was also a Klansman notable for contributing to an atmosphere of racism and violence before and after the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot.
Supporters of the name change voiced their dismay from the audience, groaning, shaking their heads, and calling out, “It’s still Brady!” and “Why can’t the whole name be taken down?”
While the change was met with widespread audience disapproval, the amendment coalesced Tulsa’s minority community.
“The ethnic unity you see in this room today will not be seen in the Brady District, will not be seen in the news, and will not be seen in the Tulsa World,” said Chief Egunwale Amusan, an advocate for the removal of the Brady name who addressed the council. “You will never get another opportunity to see unification like this, ever in your life.”
The change came as an amendment, presented by Councilor Blake Ewing, to an ordinance proposed by Councilor Jack Henderson to change Brady Street to Burlington Street. At last week’s nearly four-hour meeting, after almost 50 people spoke on the issue, most of them in favor of the name change, an unofficial tally revealed that the ordinance wouldn’t pass as written.
Ewing speculated that, even if the council passed the ordinance, Mayor Dewey Bartlett would veto it, so he offered the two amendments as a compromise. Councilor David Patrick, who opposed to changing the street name at all, was the one dissenting vote. Arianna Moore, who said at last week’s meeting she was having a panic attack over the issue, was absent.
Ewing first proposed an honorary name, Reconciliation Way, be added to all of the Brady Street signs. The second amendment was a proposition that the street be renamed “MB Brady” after Mathew Brady, in honor of the 19th century photographer made famous by his portraits of American presidents and documentation of the Civil War. He has no known ties to Tulsa or Oklahoma. Though the name “Brady” would remain, the street signs and the addresses of the businesses on Brady would change to “M.B. Brady.”
“Discussions like this have value if there’s reconciliation at the end,” Ewing said. “If we leave here better than the way we came.”
The council did not permit public discussion of Ewing’s amendment.
All of the councilors except for David Patrick spoke in favor of the compromise. Patrick said he didn’t see any reason for changing the street name to “M.B. Brady” and would only support the amendment if the street name was not changed. Henderson said he wouldn’t support it unless it was changed.
Mayor Bartlett, despite fierce protest from Henderson, stood up and said he would support the ordinance if it passed as amended.
As people continued to shout their opposition to the amendments, Ewing addressed them, saying: “The effort here is toward anything different over what it would have been. You would have lost, either by council vote or mayoral veto. I don’t like that we have to compromise, either… Tonight, I’m going to ask you to join the compromise. I had to ask my colleagues to join the compromise.”
The amendments and the amended ordinance were approved and then the mayor gave his weekly address, first congratulating the council on reaching a compromise regarding Brady Street.
After the mayor’s remarks, several from the audience addressed the council.
“When I come to downtown Tulsa and see Tom Brady, Tate Brady, any Brady—it hurts me,” said James Johnson, the grandson of a Tulsa Race Riot survivor. “It may not mean anything to you, but it means everything to me. … If I raped all of your daughters, would you make your daughter tattoo my name on her to remember me for the rest of her life? That’s what you’re asking me to do.”
He applauded the name Reconciliation Way and said he didn’t understand why that couldn’t replace Brady as the official name. Johnson said not changing the name proves to the rest of the world that “Tulsa, Oklahoma, will continue to stand for noninclusiveness.”
“’Get over it.’ ‘How dare you rewrite our history.’ ‘It was in the past.’ ‘Move on.’ ‘When will you niggers stop complaining? If you don’t like it here, then you sambos move back to Africa,’” said Kristi Williams, an advocate for the name change, as she read comments she had found online about the Brady debate. “These are the comments of the constituents under Arianna Moore, Jeannie Cue, David Patrick, and Karen Gilbert.”
Patrick interrupted her, saying, “We didn’t say them words, and I’m that offended you brought them up.”
“That’s who guys you represent,” Williams said. “Your constituents, not you.”
She went on: “The city councilors who represent the City of Tulsa and have chosen to stand with the sentiments of their constituents are therefore proudly the ones to continue to honor Tate Brady.”
Williams said the city government “represents racism, is a lover of injustice, and continues to carry the torch of Tate Brady.” She singled out the councilors who indicated their support for the name change—G.T. Bynum, Skip Steele, Blake Ewing, and Jack Henderson—and called them diamonds among the coal.
“God help us all,” she said, and then she asked the supporters of the name change to hold hands, and together, they left the meeting, singing, “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Us Around,” a popular Civil Rights hymn. [Ed: The video of the walk-out can be seen at this link, beginning at 1:01:30.]
Their voices could still be heard in the lobby after they left the meeting. Mayor Bartlett was already gone. The city council meeting continued.