Dear City Councilors:
Inertia comes in two forms: unmoving objects that resist change and moving objects that overcome resistance. Your upcoming vote at the Tulsa City Council meeting will determine if our community is moving forward or standing still.
We encourage you to lead us forward.
The question before the Council is simple: Should Tulsa change the name of a street? But the underlying implications are far-reaching. The question turns on the role of Tate Brady, a city founder, in helping the Ku Klux Klan establish itself in Tulsa. We know he was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. We know he was there during the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. And we know the Tulsa Race Riot was a singular and defining moment in our community.
Many cities across America have buildings, parks, schools, and other public facilities named after former leaders of the Ku Klux Klan. But Tulsa has a special responsibility. It is unique in America as the only community to experience a self-inflicted genocide. The Tulsa Race Riot remains a scar unlike any other. There is simply no reason for you to vote on Thursday to continue to honor a man whose actions and affiliations terrorized not just black Tulsans, but also Catholics, Jews, immigrants, and others.
We ask that you remember this special responsibility as you decide how to cast your vote this Thursday. We believe that “the right thing to do” sometimes has enough positive inertia to resist illogic, ignorance and misinformation.
Protecting the name of Tate Brady does not somehow “respect” history. In fact, until This Land Press published “The Nightmare of Dreamland” in September 2011 and started this discussion, Tate Brady’s history was virtually unknown. The local media had failed to address the issue for decades (except for one factually inaccurate story in the lifestyle section of the Tulsa World about a home-and-garden-tour that included the Brady Mansion).
Indeed, removing Tate Brady’s name makes clear that history is a positive force moving forward. It honors new knowledge rather than old ignorance.
Whether the new street name is Burlington, Avenue of the Arts, Bridges Street, or any of the other names that have been suggested, the new name is really now just a placeholder. Sometimes results like that are necessary. When the University of Oklahoma removed the name of a Ku Klux Klan leader from a building in the 1980s, it simply renamed the building Chemistry Hall. But it’s regrettable that some in this community lacked the imagination and vision to seize this opportunity to better communicate Tulsa’s arts and music and downtown renewal.
Negative inertia works in funny ways.
As City Councilors, you vote every year to appropriate millions of Tulsa taxpayers’ dollars to the Chamber of Commerce to promote the image of Tulsa. That investment is minor when compared with the vote you are about to cast. National and international media are watching this debate and your vote will send an important message about who we are.
Will you move Tulsa forward, or bring it to a standstill?
This Land Press encourages you to focus on the central issue: To not honor a dishonorable past. We share a special responsibility in Tulsa because of a singular and defining event. There is simply no reason for you to vote on Thursday to continue to name a street after a Tulsan who chose to persecute other Tulsans because of their race, faith, or beliefs.
That’s what Tulsa chose to do in the past. Let’s move forward into to the future.
Publisher, This Land Press