Tate Brady and the Tulsa Spirit

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Dr. Jeffrey Myers, a great-grandson of W. Tate Brady, posted a comment today on a BatesLine entry from July 2013 ("The Brady name game") regarding the renaming of Brady Street in Tulsa. Controversy over the early Tulsa civic leader's connection to racist organizations resulted in a bizarre City Council compromise that renamed Brady Street within the Inner Dispersal Loop to Matthew B. Brady Street, honoring the Civil War-era photographer who had no connection to Tulsa.

Below is Dr. Myers's comment, which is unedited, except for the addition of an authorship line to ensure it is properly attributed.

What´s in a Name: The Legacy of Tate Brady [by Dr. Jeffrey Myers]

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".

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Paul said:

During the recent Brady name flap, I thought it was unwise and unfair to condemn a man decades after his death. And, after reading several newspaper articles from late 1907, when the city council voted to rename "North Second Street" as "Brady," it became obvious to me that their decision was political and controversial. The "Brady Street" name was a hasty eleventh-hour revision meant to appease some of Tate Brady's Democratic cronies.

Was Tate Brady universally admired by Tulsans in his day? No way -- there were several scathing articles and editorials about him published around the time of statehood in 1907. It appears to me that he was flawed, reviled by many, and definitely partisan.

Was Tate Brady one of the most fervent promoters of Tulsa? Yes, without a doubt.

Was Tate Brady out of step with prominent white businessmen and civic leaders of his time? Probably not. I think Dr. Myers said it very well: Brady was a child of his times -- a man filled with larger-than-life dreams, as well as inconsistencies. I'm not convinced that Tate Brady was involved with the Race Riot of 1921. If so, then why, nearly seven decades later, would Mabel Little give him such a positive spin? That makes no sense to me.

A few days ago, a local pastor reminded me of some verses from the Books of Acts, Chapter 9, and in light of Dr. Myers' comment, I think they're applicable to the Brady name discussion:

(1) But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest (2) and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem...

(10) Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” (11) And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul...

(13) But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. (14) And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.”

Those excerpts are from an English Standard Version I found online.

For anyone who doesn't know the rest of the famous story, look it up. Hint: It doesn't involve the Damascus city council renaming "Straight Street," despite tremendous pressure from a vocal group of people offended by its blatantly heterosexual bias.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on April 15, 2014 6:23 PM.

Heifetz, Rachmaninoff, Pavlova play Tulsa, 1922 was the previous entry in this blog.

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