POSTED ON MAY 2, 2012:
Righting Civil Wrongs
Struggle continues in renaming Cincinnati Ave. to honor MLK
An in-depth Sunday story came across the Reuters newswire on April 22, a developing story on Tulsa's racism struggles. The Chicago Tribune picked it up and ran with it.
"This city, where a history of racial tension was inflamed by the Good Friday shootings of five black people, plans to name a street in honor of civil rights pioneer Dr. Martin Luther King but only the section that passes through a predominantly black part of a city," wrote Lindsay Morris for Reuters.
The April 6 shootings brought a weeklong shower of national and global media attention to Tulsa. And with their cameras and questions, the world took a closer look at our racial issues.
Were you happy with what you saw? And now this. In 2002, District 1 City Councilor Jack Henderson (not yet a councilor at the time) started a push to name 11 miles of Cincinnati Ave. after King. This stretch of Cincinnati starts in mostly black north Tulsa and heads over the railroad tracks into a mostly white downtown.
"Critics, including downtown businesses and churches, complained that the street name change would be confusing to long-time businesses in the downtown area, and the council shelved the idea," Morris continued.
Last year, Henderson brought the King street-naming proposal back to council chambers. But this time he shaved about a mile and a half off the 11-mile plan, which would leave the street named after King on one side of the tracks while it remains Cincinnati on the whiter downtown end. Because having a street with two names is much easier for residents to figure out than by keeping it uniform, right?
Right. In the Reuters article, Morris argued, "The challenges in winning approval for the move and getting it put into place -- including the need to scale the proposal down to get it passed by the largely white city council -- illustrate Tulsa's legacy of racial animosities and resistance to change."
Sure, there are issues with renaming a street. Some critics thought it would be confusing for Tulsans to learn a new name for Cincinnati; and new signage would be pricey. It's an expensive symbol in a time of recession and cheap nostalgia.
The revised ordinance was passed by the rest of the white councilors.
Local blogger Michael Bates, founder of BatesLine.com, pointed out that Tulsa already has an expressway named after local African American hero, L.L. Tisdale. The expressway, inaugurated in June 1997, begins as a limited access highway outside of downtown Tulsa, and runs north into Osage County, then comes back to Tulsa County, and turns into a surface street where it ends at W. 36th St. N. in, you guessed it, north Tulsa.
But grab a map and look more closely: Only the northwest Tulsa leg of this expressway is named after Tisdale. Once the highway hits downtown and heads west, it turns into the Red Fork Expressway.
Tulsa is a city of streets with two names, an expressway with two monikers; a city divided.
Sunday, April 22, was a big day for national news and Tulsa's race relations. An Associated Press story hit the wires the same day as the Reuters piece with a bleak headline of its own: "Black Tulsa: Nothing Has Changed Since Shootings, Still 'Vietnam.'"
On NPR, Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr. told Steve Inskeep that we don't have race-related tensions much in T-town anymore. Black and white Tulsans, the mayor told Inskeep, viewed the Good Friday Shootings the same way. It's how we were able to work together to get things done, he said.
But the AP wire story asserted, "Today, beyond Tulsa's oil mansions and downtown bustle, some black residents still consider this northeastern Oklahoma city of 391,000 divided. The north side today is pocked with blight, vacant lots and its share of crime -- what the past three decades or so didn't take here, the recession did."
Is it just another thing people are complaining about? Or does this show a pattern of Tulsa being a city divided?
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