Oklahoma City Changes Street Name Removes KKK Leader

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Above Photo: The intersection of DeBarr Avenue and Boyd Street. DeBarr Avenue is named for Edwin DeBarr, a former OU professor and KKK leader. Dana Branham/The DailyNorman City Council Sets Deadline For DeBarr Avenue Name Change

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Norman City Council Sets Deadline For DeBarr Avenue Name Change Amid Pressure From Local Activists

In a meeting filled with emotional appeals from members of the Norman community, the Norman City Council voted unanimously to rename DeBarr Avenue by June 1, 2018.

Spurred by local activists at its Oct. 24 meeting, the council agreed to amend its original resolution regarding DeBarr Avenue, named for former OU professor and Ku Klux Klan chaplain Edwin DeBarr, to better meet the requests of the community. Norman Citizens for Racial Justice, a new activist group, led the night’s push on city council as part of its “DeBarr Avenue Action Week.”

The council’s original resolution proposed sending the issue of renaming city streets to the City Council Oversight Committee, a solution that caused many demonstrators to accuse the council of dragging its feet and being complicit in racism.

After hearing hours of public commentary, the city council unanimously passed an amendment added by council member Breea Clark promising to change the street name by June 1 of 2018, if not earlier.

The council also voted to remove two sections from its original resolution which said the city council did not originally name DeBarr Avenue, since many demonstrators said they saw this section as the city’s attempt to avoid blame.

Deon Osborne, political communications senior and Norman Citizens for Racial Justice leader, said his ideal solution was for the council to rename the street immediately, but he was satisfied with the results of the meeting. He said he would be at the meeting of the oversight committee Nov. 8 to help see the name change through.

“Sometimes it seems like one step forward and one step back,” Osborne said. “I’m not going to tell anybody what to do or what to think going forward. But I am going to accept this resolution.”

An hour before the meeting, Norman Citizens for Racial Justice led a march from Andrews Park to Norman City Hall chanting, “Change the name.”

Once the city council meeting began, demonstrators holding signs with illustrations of various council members’ faces lined the back of the council’s chambers as Osborne took the podium.   “For 116 years the city has allowed that name to be on that street,” Osborne said. “When it comes to white people and racism, there’s never enough proof, and always enough excuses.”   Osborne, who has been a longtime activist on the issue of DeBarr Avenue, said he was tired of playing “respectability politics.”   “Whether property owners or this council wants to accept it, standing in the way of this name change is being complicit in white supremacy at the least,” Osborne said. “It’s actively encouraging white supremacy at the most.”  

George Henderson, an OU professor emeritus and longtime civil rights activist, also gave an emotional speech about Norman being his home. Many support renaming the street after Henderson himself.

“I, as a member of the generation of the 50s and the 60s, have waited too long,” Henderson said. “The time for Norman to change its policy about that street — that particular street — is now.”

Henderson spoke about the importance of Norman being a family and a community for all, something threatened by the divisiveness of people like DeBarr.

“I have defended this place we call Norman proudly and resolutely,” Henderson said. “We can fuss and we can fight in here, but let’s get it together. Let’s get it together because I don’t want my great-great grandchildren coming before city council to ask they change that name.”

There will be two more events this week supported by Norman Citizens for Racial Justice, including a press conference at 10 a.m. Oct. 25 at city hall, and a panel on race relations in college towns at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 26 at the Mercury Event Center.

Correction: This article was updated at 9:08 a.m. to reflect that Deon Osbourne said the city has allowed DeBarr Avenue to exist for 116 years, not 160 years.