African Diaspora, Civil Rights, Guest Posts, Labor and Economy, Reality Tours Blog

Radical Oklahoma – Red State Reality Tour Pt. 4

The following guest post is Part IV in a series written by Rachel Jackson who is Global Exchange’s ‘Radical Oklahoma’ Reality Tours Trip Leader, which is happening now.

The last two days we’ve been living on Tulsa time. Today we rolled into the Brady Arts District where the brand new Woody Guthrie Center is located.  The Center is an interesting collection of biographical information, historical & geographical context, archival material, commentary on Woody’s life and work, and – of course – Woody’s music.  The crowning jewel of the Woody Guthrie Center is his archives, purchased from the Guthrie family by the George Kaiser Family Foundation of Tulsa.

The entry way to the Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa, OK.

The entry way to the Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa, OK.

Unfortunately, there is some local controversy surrounding the Woody Guthrie Center’s location in the Brady Arts District.  The arts district itself is a hip area of Tulsa that has been recently developed and is home to a wide variety of restaurants, bars, art galleries and coops, concert space, and museums.  The trouble is, it’s named after Tate Brady, a “founder” of Tulsa who happened also to be a leader of the local Klan.  What an irony that the Woody Guthrie Center, built in honor of a man who spent his life dedicated to unionism and civil rights, should have an address on Brady Street.  Here’s the good news: there is a strong coalition of determined folks urging the Tulsa City Council to get the name changed.

The Tower of Reconciliation by artist Ed Dwight.

The Tower of Reconciliation by artist Ed Dwight.

Adding fuel to the fire is that part of the Brady Arts District is located within the boundaries of the historic Greenwood District, a thriving African American portion of the city proudly built while Jim Crow still reigned supreme.  The Greenwood District was utterly decimated in the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot, referred to by Greenwood residents who lived through it as the Race War.  It was a massacre.  Tate Brady was front and center as racist whites organized into militias, killing many hundreds of African Americans, looting property, and burning homes and businesses to the ground.  It’s a shameful, painful part of Tulsa’s past.

Thursday’s tour stops were devoted to understanding Oklahoma’s African American history, the Greenwood District and All Black Townships, the 1921 Race War, and the state and city’s efforts at reconciliation.  We started in the morning with a stop at Reconciliation Park, located in the Greenwood District, just a few blocks north of Brady Street and the Woody Guthrie Center.  In the midst of the ugly facts of the 1921 Race War, this patch of earth offers reassurance that humanity can confront its mistakes, admit painful truths, and move forward having learned from them.  The park is a result of the Oklahoma legislature’s Tulsa Race Riot Commission findings, and the hard work of many committed politicians, historians, activists, and artists.

GX Tour participants, with Jef Kos (Secretary of the John Hope Franklin Center of Reconciliation Board), feeling deeply satisfied after lunch.

GX Tour participants, with Jef Kos (Secretary of the John Hope Franklin Center of Reconciliation Board), feeling deeply satisfied after lunch.

Much of the work uncovering the truth about the “Tulsa Race Riot,” is inspired by the life and work of pioneering African American historian, Dr. John Hope Franklin. We were fortunate enough to get to visit with Jef Kos, the Secretary of the Board for the John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation, and former student of Dr. Franklin’s.  After our time in the park, he accompanied us on a leisurely tour through the Greenwood Cultural Center, and then to lunch at Dr. Franklin’s favorite barbeque joint in North Tulsa – Oklahoma Style BBQ.  Yum.


1 Comment

  1. Dr. Jeffrey Myers

    Will the Circle Be Unbroken
    The Legacy of Tulsa Founder Tate Brady

    WTB. The nearly-faded initials engraved on the gold pocket watch belong to one of the founders of Tulsa, Oklahoma. When Wyatt Tate Brady arrived in 1890, Tulsa had but a few hundred residents, all drawn by seemingly boundless opportunity. The pioneer Brady rolled up his sleeves and went to work, helping turn an untidy tangle of dirt streets and a handful of tents into what would one day be referred to as the “oil capital of the world”. Tate Brady was a hotel owner and an entrepreneur, a successful businessman and a civic leader. He was also my great-grandfather.

    KKK. The initials require little explanation. Neither do the all-white robes and sharply pointed hats of the Ku Klux Klan, which call forth images of lynchings by day and cross burnings by night. For many KKK members, intimidation and acts of terror were considered to be an acceptable means to achieving a sinister end — white supremacy. By 1920, some four million Americans were members of the Ku Klux Klan. My great-grandfather was one of them.

    Shock and shame, disbelief and defensiveness. An array of emotions swept over the descendants and admirers of Tate Brady — the larger-than-life pioneer and patriarch, the visionary and founding member of a local church, as details of his involvement with racist groups emerged.

    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.

    As revelations of membership in racist organizations and possible complicity in the infamous Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 came to light, the City of Tulsa decided to rename the street bearing the name of my great-grandfather. Brady Street became M. Brady Street, a tribute to the Civil War photographer Mathew Brady. Amidst criticism of historical revisionism (Mathew Brady had no direct relationship to Tulsa), the name change was intended as a sign of good will and reconciliation.

    But the larger question remains as to whether this is mere cosmetic change. Will the “sins of the fathers”, the failures and cruelties of the past, remain – at least this side of heaven – unredeemed? Will past injustices – “man´s inhumanity to man” – have the final say?

    As providence would have it, Brady Street is intersected by Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard. The debate that raged over the name change took place, coincidentally, in August of this year – the same time the nation was commemorating King´s historic March on Washington 50 years ago. Dr. King´s vision has lost nothing of its power: “Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.”

    Though critical of the name change as an attempt to whitewash parts of history we would rather not see, I nevertheless ask myself, as other family members do, what our part might be in encouraging reconciliation. Along the way one has to be careful, of course, not to commit “the greatest treason” which, in the words of the poet T. S. Eliot, lies in doing “the right deed for the wrong reason.”

    But there is surely a place – even years after injustices have incurred, including ones for which we bear no direct responsibility – to write a letter or make a phone call, to start a conversation or write a check. And we do so not only to help redeem the past in some small way, but perhaps in the hope that one day our own great-grandchildren and the coming generations might continue the work of reconciliation for the injustices committed, knowingly and unknowingly, by our own generation.

    As with many families with roots in the South, the song “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” remains a family favorite. It was written in 1907 – the same year Oklahoma became a state and Tate Brady was named to the Democratic National Committee. This gospel hymn sings of that which joins us together and holds us through the night, even when the circle is threatened by disappointment or grief, scandal or failure. It speaks of love which is stronger than hate, stronger even than death itself.

    May the circle be unbroken.