Our Town

by James O. Goodwin


Our town typically names streets, schools, sometimes-entire neighborhoods and commercial districts after people who are supposedly models of what Tulsa is all about and where we are headed. There are many instances in Tulsa of this tradition and there will be many to come. There is a grand and dynamic downtown art district and a hopeful, racially and economically integrated neighborhood, to the immediate north of Tulsa’s downtown named after one Tate Brady: a fellow who is described in official Oklahoma Historical Society documents as “a pioneer and an entrepreneur”.

In an engrossing, powerfully written piece in the most recent issue of Tulsa’s This Land Press, writer Lee Roy Chapman looks back at Tulsa during the 1917 to 1921 period. Mr. Chapman’s article is a magisterial, that is to say, a very authoritative and evidence-driven revisiting of a bevy of events during this storied period in Tulsa’s voyage. Chapman details a little known epic “national” event that preceded the Tulsa riot of 1921: a giant (40,000 souls attended) “Sons of Confederacy” convention hosted by a galaxy of Tulsa elites and managed by Mr. Tate Brady. This confederate “celebration” may have helped condition the political and social climate in Tulsa that lead to the horror filled, ultra violent riot of 1921. Mr. Chapman’s article is one of the most compelling recent pieces on this period in Tulsa’s complex history. In tone and sweep, Chapman’s essay compares well with book length treatments of the events of ’21 by former Tulsan Scott Ellsworth and native Eddie Faye Gates. Lee Roy Chapman’s piece is a compelling, nearly poetic meditation on a set of evil events, evil men and evil forces that produced the riot of 1921 and still shape Tulsa’s geography, racial dynamics and social climate. The essay deserves to be read by anyone concerned about our town’s past and its future: It is also a sad reminder ––we should be very careful in honoring people via “permanent” place names. We do ourselves great harm and we confuse everyone by naming a couple of vivid, kinetic Tulsa places, with stout futures, after an exceedingly violent, racist and arguably treasonous individual who is by no analysis representative of the spirit that Tulsa needs going forward. I will help, after reading Chapman’s exceptional well-crafted and meticulously documented article, anyone who wants to organize a process to rename the two Brady enclaves in T-town.

Editor’s note: We’ll be including select responses from our readers below.

Kathy Gregory writes:

I take issue with the last statement made by James O. Goodwin of the Oklahoma Eagle in his article ‘Our Town’ in the September 1, 2011 issue of This Land. He proposes that we work toward renaming Tulsa’s Brady District as well as the Brady Heights neighborhood, each named for W. Tate Brady. As a current resident of Brady Heights and as a history lover, I must adamantly oppose this idea. Although I find many of Brady’s actions despicable and disgusting, I do not understand the logic of changing the name of these areas.
If we were to act on this logic, we would be forced to rename many local and national landmarks and pieces of history based on the questionable actions of their namesake. What about our forefathers that were slave owners? (Hmm, what should we rename the Jefferson Memorial? And let’s throw away the Declaration of Independence while we’re at it because slavery-proponent Thomas Jefferson authored it!) Ok, let’s bring it back home. Shall we also rename Charles Page Boulevard as he was a committee member of the 1918 Sons of Confederacy reunion (which, according to Lee Roy Chapman’s article in the same This Land issue, was akin to the KKK as they “actively recruited its members from the Sons of Confederate Veterans”)?
I believe the Brady name should remain for the very reasons that the Oklahoma Historic Society and the 1921 Race Riot Memorial of Reconciliation Design Committee determined the race riots were significant. It possesses “exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the natural or cultural themes of our national heritage.” Why try to cover up what happened by renaming everything that points back to that time? If it were not for the historical Brady name, would this topic arise again and again, each time, showing how much farther we’ve come as a city? Let us instead remember.

Kathy Gregory
Brady Heights Resident