The Ugly Truth

The area of north downtown along Brady Street from about Denver to Boston has been, for some time now, loosely referred to as the “Brady Arts District.”
But, a recent grassroots movement seeks to change that.
Lee Roy Chapman, a local artist and Tulsa history buff, has started a small movement called the “Bob Wills Revolt” seeking to change the name of the Brady Arts District to the Bob Wills Arts District. He bases his reasoning on recent documentation that has emerged confirming Tate Brady, for whom the district, the street, the Brady Heights neighborhood and the Brady Mansion are named, as a member of the Ku Klux Klan and the orchestrater of a number of anti-black actions in Tulsa.
In 2005, when the Department of the Interior’s National Park Service conducted a survey on the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot, it confirmed that “W. Tate Brady, a wealthy and powerful member of Tulsa’s establishment” was “a member of the Ku Klux Klan.”
“He was vilified by African American riot victims for fermenting the tragedy and leading the conspiracy to steal their land following the 1921 race riot,” the report reads. “While serving as vice-chairman of the city’s reconstruction committee, Brady led the effort to push African Americans from their lands and redevelop the burned-out Greenwood area for light industrial purposes by sponsoring the infamous Fire Ordinance No. 2156 that would have prevented blacks from rebuilding their homes and businesses.”
Chapman cites Bob Wills’ position as a uniter as the reason why the Brady Arts District should be renamed the Bob Wills Arts District.
“A lot of people don’t really understand what he did with music,” said Chapman, “but in Tulsa story, it’s really important. He was integrating. That’s why, in the song “Take me Back to Tulsa,” he says, “Drop me off on Archer and I’ll walk down to Greenwood.” He was going down there and hanging out at the jazz clubs and integrating music, which later became rock and roll. All of the founders of rock and roll were emulating Bob Wills.”
Chapman said Brady’s position as a Klansman and the Tulsa race riot are significant pieces of Tulsa’s history that have been repressed and ignored, and his mission, more than changing the name of the district, is to bring about awareness of these important, albeit ugly, elements of the city’s story.
He created a page on the social networking site Facebook for the Bob Wills Revolt about three weeks ago and, since that time, it’s garnered more than 350 followers, including Brady Theater proprietor Peter Mayo, Club 209 proprietor Greg Gray and artist and Brady Heights resident Margee Aycock.
Chapman said he started the revolt to bring to light the city’s dark past, and he did it now because he felt it was timely, with all of the development happening in both the Brady and Greenwood districts.
“Now is the time,” he said, “because part of the National Park Survey says that, in order for Greenwood to be a national park, they recommend that these areas be undisturbed. And now they’re building a ballpark right in the middle of it.
“(Race riot victims) were interned at a baseball park at 11th and Elgin. That’s like building a model of Auschwitz in Tel Aviv. It’s like, what are these people thinking?”
“Some people in the Greenwood area said they felt like they were being gradually pushed out, but yet utilized for publicity’s sake,” Chapman said.
And yet, the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce sold the land for the ONEOK Field to the George Kaiser Family Foundation.
And while Chapman, or the followers of his Facebook site, isn’t against development in the area, he wants it to be considerate of the history there, he said.
“I’m not saying that everything down there needs to be changed. We don’t need to change the name of Brady Street necessarily. But there definitely needs to be a marker down there stating who he was; telling the truth, and being completely honest about it,” he said.
“That in and of itself will give a depth to that area that makes it interesting and make people want to go down there,” he added. “You can’t continue ignoring this kind of history. If you go to New Orleans or Memphis, you see this kind of history. It’s not that uncommon. Dozens of cities has race riots around that time. The Revolt’s just to raise awareness and see how active people want to become and what they want Tulsa to look like.”
Chapman said he’s conversed with leaders in the Greenwood district, and they’ve told him they don’t care whether or not the Brady District continues to go by that name “as long as the history’s told.”
“Because history is the story of how we evolve. And if we don’t know how we evolved to this point, we’ll make the same mistakes we did in the past,” he said.
Through the Bob Wills Revolt, Chapman and others will host events, like the recent “Ride Through the Riot” in which Chapman led a group on a bicycle tour of the Tulsa race riot. Through the movement’s Web site,, merchandise will be available for sale. And, above all, he’ll continue to be vocal about the city’s and Brady’s history.
“That’s why I called it a revolt,” he said. “Because Tate Brady’s history is revolting. So what do you do? I don’t want to just propose a problem and whine about a problem. Offer a solution.”

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