An Oklahoma city has renamed one of its streets without changing any street signs: Brady Street, originally named after Ku Klux Klan member Wyatt “Tate” Brady, will now be named after Civil War photographer Mathew Brady for convenience.
The Tulsa City Council on Thursday voted 7-1 to change the meaning of the street name in response to protests from residents who did not want signs to commemorate the notorious Ku Klux Klan member.
Wyatt “Tate” Brady, one of the town’s founders, was responsible for instigating a vicious race riot nearly 100 years ago. He owned a general store and hotel, operated a newspaper and signed the documents that officially declared Tulsa a town when Oklahoma gained statehood in 1907. But he also led a faction of the KKK called the Knights of Liberty, a white supremacist group that triggered the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. The wealthiest African-American community in the US was burned to the ground, the local black hospital was also torched and 10,000 blacks were left homeless. It remains unclear how many African-Americans were killed in the riot, but estimates run as high as 600.
Most residents didn’t think much about the meaning behind the street signs until a 2011 article published by Tulsa-based literary magazine This Land detailed the KKK leader’s involvement in the Klan. Despite Brady’s racist tendencies and violent past, he had a mansion, a theater and a street named after him for nearly a century – and to some extent, he still does.
The decision to change the name was made after weeks of heated debated. During a three-hour meeting last week, the council voted 4-4 and Tulsa residents voted 40-8 that a new name would help Tulsa separate itself from its racist past. But the council decided to delay the vote, which was initially scheduled for last week, stating that it would be best to wait for the ninth councilman to return from his vacation.
The council initially considered renaming the road “Burlington Street” after discovering a 1907 document on which someone crossed out “Burlington” and scribbled “Brady” in its place. But ultimately, the council voted to keep the signs as they are, officially honoring Civil War photographer Mathew Brady instead – a man credited for being the father of photojournalism.
The move saves the city the money it would cost to make new street signs, but some residents are not satisfied with the decision.
“Take the Brady name down, period, and bury it with Tate Brady. That’s where it belongs,” resident James Johnson told KOTV.
But Councilor Blake Ewing told Tulsa World that the decision strikes a balance between what some of the councilmembers wanted and what the protesters asked for.
“We all got to thinking and have tried to come up with something that maybe doesn’t please the entirety of our community but hopefully is a first step in advancing, moving out of this, reconciling,” he said.
When residents woke up the morning after the vote, Brady Street looked the same as it did the day before – but on official state documentation, the street now commemorates a more honorable Mr. Brady.