Examining the legacy of Tate Brady

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 greatgrandchildren 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 has been 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 historic 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."

Dr. Jeffrey Myers, a great-grandson of W. Tate Brady, lives in Germany. In 2013, the Tulsa City Council voted to rename Tulsa's Brady Street as "M.B. Brady Street" in honor of Civil War photographer Mathew Brady.