The Brady name game

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The debate over purging the name Brady from Tulsa streets and landmarks has made international news.

Tulsa City Council researcher Jack Blair discovered a December 24, 1907, street-naming ordinance that shows that Archer, Brady, and Haskell streets had different names in the initial draft -- Archer was Atchison, Brady was Burlington. The name crossed out in favor of Haskell is illegible -- an eight-character name presumably beginning with "H". (UPDATE: Paul Uttinger has learned from contemporary newspaper accounts of the debate that the originally proposed "H" street was "Hiawatha." Paul also notes that many of the cities in the list of proposed street names were in northeastern Kansas or northwestern Missouri; Alderman James W. Woodford was from Burlington in northeastern Kansas. See his comment below.)

Jeff Archer was an early Tulsa merchant. Archer was killed in 1894 by an explosion caused by a drunk shooting into a barrel of gunpowder in his store. W. Tate Brady was an incorporator of the City of Tulsa. Charles N. Haskell was the first governor of Oklahoma.

In the 1907 Sanborn Fire Map of Tulsa, there is an Archer Ave. and a Brady Ave., but not at their current locations. Archer Ave. was between Cheyenne and Osage (one block west of Denver Ave.) -- present day Edison St. Brady Ave. was present day Golden St. between Denver and Osage. The street runs to the north of the Brady Mansion. In between (what is now Fairview St.) was Mowbray Ave., named to honor the Rev. George W. Mowbray, Methodist pastor, Mayor of Tulsa, and father-in-law to Jeff Archer.


My theory is that, when the city decided in 1907 to rename the original Archer and Brady streets to create alphabetical order and consistency, friends of the Archer and Brady families pushed to have those names re-used for the "A" and "B" streets north of the tracks. (I'm not sure why Rev. Mowbray was left out.) Someone should check newspaper microfilm from December 1907 to see if there are any accounts of the decision-making process and any controversy surrounding it.

There are a few distinctions that need to be made.

The Brady Theater was built 1912-1914 as the city's Convention Hall. Later it became known as the Tulsa Municipal Theater. It was the place for ballet and symphony performances prior to the Performing Arts Center. When Peter Mayo bought it from the city at auction in 1978, he dubbed it the "Old Lady on Brady" because of its age and its location on Brady Street. Late '80s and early '90s news stories refer to it by the "Old Lady" name. By the mid-'90s, it had been rebranded as the Brady Theater. The theater's connection with Tate Brady is secondary -- the theater was named after the street, which was named after Tate Brady.

Sometime in the late 1980s, as warehouse districts became popular for arts and entertainment redevelopment, the idea of "Brady Village" as an arts district began to catch on. It was formally adopted in the city's 1989 Downtown Master Plan. Mayfest was held in Brady Village in 1991 and 1992. (I remember seeing Asleep at the Wheel in 1992 on an open-air stage in a parking lot where the Fairfield Inn now is, and later that evening at Cain's Ballroom. A co-worker and a couple of friends were leasing the Continental Supply Company building and had converted it into a loft.)

In July 1992, Spaghetti Warehouse opened. In December 1993, Mexicali Border Cafe opened. The connection of the district to Tate Brady is tertiary: The district was named after the theater, which was named after the street, which was named after Tate Brady. My guess is that Brady was chosen as the district's name because it evoked turn-of-the-century railroads and industry. I suspect that the organizers were thinking more about Diamond Jim Brady than Tate Brady.

Brady Heights is the name of a subdivision that was platted along N. Denver Avenue, on a hill overlooking downtown. The subdivision gave its name to the historic preservation district established in the 1990s; the HP district incorporates parts of adjacent subdivisions.

The Brady Mansion, which is in the Brady Heights historic district, is so called because Tate Brady built it and lived there.

The city has control over the name of Brady Street, and the City Council (with mayoral approval) could decide to rename it. Brady Street isn't just downtown, but it extends to the east and west limits of the city and even beyond. A Catoosa subdivision just north of I-44 and east of Lynn Lane Rd used Tulsa street names, since it was developed in the 1960s when the area was unincorporated. Changing a street name has far-reaching impact. It affects every homeowner and business owner

The city also could choose to rename the TIF district that encompasses the arts district or the name of the Brady Heights historic preservation district. These names are matters of city ordinance, but because the names of these entities are derived from pre-existing places, changing the name would create a geographical disconnect.

All the other Brady names are under private control. The owner could choose to change the name of the Brady Theater. The Brady Heights Neighborhood Association could rename itself, as could the Brady Arts District Business Association.

All these places could be renamed, but should they?

Until the campaign to rename Brady Street began, I doubt many Tulsans knew the significance of the name, any more than they knew what Xanthus or Xyler meant. One could argue that the street name has transcended its connection to its namesake. Most Tulsa street names were chosen arbitrarily to fit into an alphabetical scheme, and I imagine most Tulsans, if they thought about it at all, assumed the name Brady was equally arbitrary.

If they do rename it, I hope at least they use a name beginning with a B. The city has already violated alphabetical order twice in recent years, renaming part of Haskell Street to John Hope Franklin Blvd. and renaming half of Cincinnati Avenue as Martin Luther King Junior Blvd.

I would like to see the name of the arts district changed, and I like Lee Roy Chapman's suggestion of calling it the Bob Wills District, as it acknowledges a musician of worldwide renown who made his fame in the district, at Cain's Ballroom, and it fits nicely with the area's reputation as a home for live music. The name "Bob Wills District" on a map would be a magnet for worldwide fans of the man's music who want to connect with his legacy.

As a brand name for the area, the name Bob Wills has positive associations reaching far beyond Tulsa that would add to the good feelings Tulsans have about the neighborhood north of the tracks as a place to have fun. The name Brady has been associated in the minds of Tulsans with restaurants and bars and live music for over 20 years, but those positive associations are now tainted by what we've learned recently about Tate Brady.

I doubt that the Brady name means much to people outside of Tulsa. Even if you disregard Brady's membership in the Klan and involvement in the race riot, which historical figure would you associate with fun: A dour civic leader who committed suicide, or this guy?

Call it the Bob Wills District, and you've got a built-in slogan: "Stay all night, stay a little longer."

Lee Roy Chapman's 2011 story about Tate Brady is a reminder that many other prominent Tulsans of that era, whose names adorn streets and parks and buildings all over town, were as culpable as Brady. If we start by purging Brady's name, we cannot stop there. Names like Lorton and Jones and Lewis will have to go, too. Cyrus Avery, the father of Route 66, whom we've just honored with a plaza and a sculpture, was involved with real estate in Greenwood. If we dug deeply into his record, would we feel the need to erase his name from the map? And shouldn't our purge include the civic leaders who pushed for Greenwood's second destruction in the 1960s and 1970s? That probably means removing the names of the mayors of that era (Hewgley, LaFortune) and other officials (like City Attorney Charles Norman) from buildings and places.


In 2011, Fox 23 interviewed Tulsa Race Riot survivor Wess Young, who lives in Brady Heights:

He doesn't want the neighborhood's name to change. "That's history, why would you try and change what has gone one and not show what progress you have made," he told FOX23. He says he doesn't live in Tate Brady's neighborhood, he lives in his neighborhood. No matter what name it has. "It doesn't bother me because I have the privilege to live where I can afford."

I wrote at the time:

My thinking -- keep Brady Street and Brady Heights as a humbling reminder that men like Brady were a part of Tulsa's past, but pick a better name to market the area north of the tracks downtown. I like Lee Roy Chapman's suggestion: Call it the Bob Wills District.

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Graychin said:

What's in a name?

It's unfair to judge people long dead by today's standards. Lincoln (the "Great Emancipator") advocated sending freed slaves back to Africa. Jefferson and Washington owned slaves - as did most wealthy Virginians of their time.

Sad to say, Tate Brady was probably a typical businessman of his times. In the context of the ugly Jim Crow racism of the early 20th Century, belonging to the Klan was a lot like belonging to today's Chamber of Commerce. If we try to erase all the virulent racists from Tulsa's early history, there wouldn't be hardly anyone left. Tate Brady had lots of influential Tulsans for company while rioting in Greenwood in 1921. Including at least one airplane owner and certain newspaper publishers.

Tulsa's old and declining Municipal Theater was commonly nicknamed "the Old Lady on Brady" before Mr. Mayo bought it.

It's very hard to rename something that is already well-known. Does anyone actually call corporate-named venues by their purchased names? The Creek Nation Center, formerly the QuikTrip Center, formerly the Expo Building, will always be the IPE building to us old-timers. If we change the names of Brady Street and all other things Brady, will people actually use the new names in conversation? Probably not.

Quick - where are First Energy Stadium, CenturyLink Field, and EverBank Field?

The BOK Center is an exception. Everyone calls it that, but that was its original name. Good luck to anyone who pays to rename it the "XYZ Energy Center" or something.

All that said, here is my suggestion. Since "the Bob Wills District" is unlikely to catch on, how about renaming Brady Street "Bob Wills Boulevard"? It begins with a B! (But isn't the section of Main Street in front of Cain's already named that - unofficially, like 15th Street is Cherry Street? Is that a problem?)

Maybe renaming Brady Street to Bob Wills Boulevard would soothe the passions of those of us who want the City - somehow - to express our disapproval of Mr. Brady's racism. Then the District and the Theater can call themselves whatever they like.

Karri Peterson said:

Nice work on the history about the Brady District. I also agree that its name needs to be changed. (You are a better consumer of music and culture than I am, so I don't know about Bob Willis.) The thing that bothers me about the name of the Brady District is that because it can be tied to the race riots, it serves as a proxy for it and with it comes the city's troublesome past with integration. These things remain in community memory for a long time because they were planted in the lives of individuals of blacks and whites. For me, changing it would be a first step away from equating blackness and trauma--something that is very important if we are going to breakthrough racial misunderstanding.

David Van Author Profile Page said:

I strong oppose the renaming frenzy. This is an undue penalty upon every business and residence who shares a Brady street address.
It further trashes a man who's not here to defend the facts regarding his legacy.
If we accept the assertions of the 'anti-Brady' crowd, the street name still does not endorse or approve Tate's actions in race relations.
Perhaps Henderson and others would do better to remove the Perryman name from any Tulsa Historical honors.
The fact remains that the only slave owners in Oklahoma were American Indians like the Creek, Cherokee, Osage, Seminole, & other tribes.

Tulsa said:

The leader of this name change group, James L. Johnson, is deliberately lying about historical facts. On his Facebook page he states that Brady was a Grand Wizard of the KKK and that he single handedly planned the riot, as well as being personally responsible for murdering people. Lies with no evidence. Mr. Johnson also stated that Woody Guthrie was a Klan member. More lies. Now they are trying to organize a boycott of the Historic Brady Arts District.

We should not give in to racist bullies who scream through a bullhorn.

Graychin said:

The people who want to change the name of Brady Street are "racist bullies"?

I certainly never thought of myself that way.

Paul Uttinger said:

The illegible name crossed out in favor of Haskell is Hiawatha. At the December 9, 1907 city council meeting, the aldermen voted for a prohibition ordinance. The measure outlawed beverages containing alcohol, and the "near-beers" Uno, Pablo, Longhorn, and Hiawatha were all named specifically in the resolution.

At the same meeting, a council committee submitted their report and recommendations for re-naming the streets. According to a World article published on December 10, a "wordy war" lasting over 30 minutes ensued. Alderman E.B. Howard wanted Brady and Archer to remain in the roll of street names. He also wanted Hiawatha changed to Haskell.

Note: It has been reported recently that Alderman James W. Woodford was from Burlington, Kansas. Atchison, Easton, and Fairview are all cities in northeast Kansas, not far from Burlington. Cameron and Independence, in northwest Missouri, are both in the vicinity of Atchison, Easton, and Fairview.

Dr. Jeffrey Myers said:

What´s in a Name: The Legacy of Tate Brady

As one of the great-grandchildren of W. Tate Brady, I was deeply saddened to learn of his affiliation – direct or indirect – with racist organizations. Although he died long before I was born, we great-grandchildren often heard of his deep affection for “Tulsey Town” and his coining of the term “Tulsa Spirit”.

Personally, I have never thought of “Brady” Street simply as a personal tribute to one of Tulsa´s founders, but rather a reminder of one of the most eventful and “spirited” chapters in the history of the city – with all of its triumphs and tragedies, virtues and vices, successes and failures. To preserve a name – including both the achievements and the shortcomings it represents – serves to convey historical identity.

In some ways, Tate Brady can be said to have been a child of his times. He was a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans in a young city painfully divided along racial lines. He was a man filled with larger-than-life dreams, as well as inconsistencies. Having joined the Ku Klux Klan as a young man, he later renounced the group, going on to support an anti-Klan gubernatorial candidate for election.

If I am not mistaken, though, he is being judged for one substantiated act of cruelty which, despicable as it is, remains one single act. I am not aware of any evidence of his complicity in other crimes, nor is there convincing evidence linking him to an active role in the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. Fortunately, times have changed; needless to say, actions must always be understood and judged in the context of those times. Historical revisionism is sometimes tempting, but often self-serving.

It has been said that Wyatt Tate Brady was known for hiring African Americans to work in his hotel and other businesses. Not long before she died at the age of 104, Mabel B. Little, a survivor of the Tulsa Race Riot who was once employed by Brady, recalls in her book, Fire on Mount Zion: My Life and History as a Black Woman in America (1990): "Another man, Mr. Tate Brady had good feelings for black people. He hired several black boys as porters. But he told them up front, "Listen, boys: I'm gonna train you so you can get your own businesses someday."

I´ve always liked the fact that this historical street north of Main only bore a surname – and not a first name, thus pointing beyond itself, not only to the larger Brady family – many of whom loved and gave generously of themselves and their gifts to Tulsa, but also to the wider family, named and unnamed, of pioneer-spirited Tulsans. The name Brady invokes that which is unique to Tulsa – not only at its best, but also that which needs to be transformed and redeemed, individually and together.

In a moment of larger vision, W. Tate Brady was once quoted as saying: “Indian and white man, Jew and Gentile, Catholic and Protestant, we worked together side by side, and shoulder to shoulder, and under these conditions, the ‘Tulsa Spirit’ was born, and has lived, and God grant that it never dies.” Though framed in words from another era, this vision would seem to capture the magnanimous, unifying “spirit” of Tulsa – the direction surely intended by the street sign bearing the name “Brady”.

Paul Uttinger said:

My thanks and appreciation to Dr. Myers for his comment.

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