Tulsa Councilor: City Founder Was a 'Ku Klux Klanner' Who Did 'Many, Many Good Things'

An interim Tulsa councilor has defended the legacy of Ku Klux Klansman W. Tate Brady, whose name is part of a local signage dispute.

Admitting the influential early resident was a "Ku Klux Klanner" during a committee meeting Wednesday, District 3 councilor Karen O'Brien also said "he also did many, many other good things" that have been "pushed to one side."

Outgoing District 4 City Councilor Blake Ewing recently proposed changing the name of a street that once bore Brady's name. He was unhappy with a previous compromise that saw "Brady Street" renamed "M.B. Brady Street" after a civil war photographer (no relation). "I look back and wish I would have done something different," Ewing previously told local non-profit publication The Frontier.

Ewing's new proposal would see "M.B. Brady Street" become "Reconciliation Way." He said he would be able to find funds to help local businesses change other signage during the Council Urban/Economic Development Committee meeting. "I don't believe citizens of Tulsa's' tax dollars should be used to honor klansmen," he added, calling for a public discussion on the issue.

But O'Brien disagreed the relevant signage should be changed again, saying it wouldn't "make a big difference." "I understand the issue that was brought up about [W. Tate] Brady being a Ku Klux Klanner, but he also did many, many other good things. And that gets pushed to one side," she said.

The city's only black councilor, Vanessa Hall Harper, appeared to roll her eyes at the statement.

O'Brien went on to compare Brady's transgressions to the errors of a schoolteacher who makes a mistake early on in an equation, but gets everything else right, saying: "The students only pay attention to the mathematical error—and that's exactly what we are doing...we're only looking at the error, we're not looking at the good."

"That's one aspect of his life. I'm sure all of us have aspects of our lives that [are not] positive," she added.

But Ewing disagreed, saying: "He didn't slip and fall into the Ku Klux Klan," Ewing responded. "It wasn't a mistake. It was a choice that he made to persecute minorities…He persecuted his neighbors: Tulsans."

The issue is particularly pertinent because the street runs through the Greenwood District, the site of 1921's Tulsa massacre, in which tens of people were killed, hundreds injured and thousands of black citizens detained after a white mob attacked the area's African American community.

"We don't hear about the good things that happened afterwards to the people who were involved [in the massacre], O'Brien went on to say. "All we hear about are the negatives and that frustrates me to no end."

Previously known as "The Brady District," the area home to the street in question is now known as the "Tulsa Arts District," The Frontier reported. Some of the street already uses Reconciliation Way signage as an honorary symbol, according to the publication. The issue may only have arisen, O'Brien suggested, because the area is now prosperous.

O'Brien stepped in after the death of Council Chair David Patrick in September, the city council reported. She was sworn in as District 3's interim councilor October 3, and she did not stand in Wednesday's City Council ballot. O'Brien did not immediately respond to Newsweek's request for comment.