Hundreds of people in Norman are joining a petition to change the name of one of the city's historic streets.
DeBarr Avenue is named after one of OU's founding faculty members, who was also a KKK leader. The debate over the legacy of Edwin DeBarr has been ongoing for decades now. The street is one of the last places to bear his name, but one city councilwoman is hoping to change that.
An online petition is nearing its goal of 500 signatures in just three days. It was created by Norman’s Ward 6 councilwoman Breea Clark. While the street is not in her district, Clark is an OU professor who wants to rally the community against the university's dark past.
“We all live here,” said Clark. “We all want to provide a welcoming community for everyone in Norman, and I think this is a great way and an easy way to show that we really are working towards that.”
Edwin DeBarr was one of the first four faculty members at the University of Oklahoma. While he was still working on campus, he became Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, a national leadership position.
The university denounced DeBarr for his role in the KKK, and in 1988, the OU Board of Regents voted to remove his name from the chemistry building, after years of public outcry.
Sunday, however, students live along a street that is still named after him.
“For him to be the Grand Dragon, that just shows you how much he was involved in the KKK,” said OU student Lourya Winn, who lives on DeBarr Avenue. “So, I think that’s what it is that got me to think that 'yeah, it probably should be changed.'”
Clark said those who oppose the change are upset about the effects on themselves more than anything else.
“If we’re concerned about the inconvenience of changing names and streets on driver’s licenses or rental agreements or bank accounts versus taking down a national leader of the Ku Klux Klan as a street name, perhaps we should rethink our priorities on that issue,” Clark argues.
The City Council has to get 75 percent of the landlords on the street to approve the change. Clark said one man who owns six of the block’s 31 homes has already agreed to add his support.
Clark hopes to rename the block for OU's George Henderson, the first black man to own a home in Norman. Clark then plans to install a plaque along the street that outlines DeBarr's past, much like the one that currently resides in front of the chemistry building on campus.
“A person can do great things, but if they’re not on the right side of an important issue like that, it undermines all that we stand for,” said Clark.
Clark said she will be launching a GoFundMe page to raise about $500 for the name change application, new street signs and the new plaque, so that the project does not spend taxpayer money.
Mayor Lynne Miller, who once lived on DeBarr Avenue, told News 9 she agrees with removing a name that offends citizens. Clark said she also has the support of her fellow councilors.