DeBarr Avenue

DeBarr Avenue, which was named after founding OU professor and KKK leader Edwin DeBarr will be renamed Deans Row Avenue, following city council approval on Dec. 19. 

DeBarr Avenue’s days are numbered.

On Tuesday, the city council unanimously voted to approve a petition by property owners to rename the controversial street Deans Row Avenue.

Local and state activists have spoken out against the name, which was named after and and by founding OU professor and KKK leader Edwin DeBarr.

Ward 6 council member Breea Clark, who spearheaded the revival of a movement to see the name changed, said the signs should be kept as a historical reminder of how far Norman has come as an inclusive community.

“I want to thank everyone who called, emailed, posted and shared your thoughts on this issue,” she said. “They did not fall on deaf ears.”

“I want to make sure we support our property owners as much as possible in this process. I know change is hard, but inconvenience should not be an obstacle to an issue like this for our community.”

Ward 4 council member Bill Hickman thanked Clark for her efforts and acknowledged the historic nature of the moment.

“After over 100 years of having a street named after a grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, we’re going to change that name and take that sign down,” he said.

Mayor Lynne Miller said she was pleased to see the issue come to a much-needed resolution, especially one that property owners supported.

“There have been many people concerned about the name for a long time,” she said. “When we listened to all of the stories, it was clear to us that this was a problem. I don’t think any of us wanted to have to be in a position to tell a group of neighbors that you have to do this … It may have come to that, but this is much better.”

Public Works Director Shawn O’Leary said the city will move to implement the official change within 30 days of approval.

The applicants will be responsible for paying a $200 fee associated with the name change, but Clark said she will lead a crowdfunding effort to help raise money to cover the costs to DeBarr residents associated with ID changes and other loose ends.

Resident Stephen Ellis said he will pledge $200 to the cause but said the name change should have come sooner.

“I do find it curious that this item has been held to a very high bar, procedurally, even though the procedure in question wasn’t one that was really binding on council,” he said. “[The city] could’ve taken care of this a lot earlier.”

The decision comes after months of wrangling over the city’s street renaming policy, which is in the process of undergoing an overhaul.

The city’s current policy calls for 75 percent of property owners to sign off on a name change. Some DeBarr Avenue property owners remained reluctant when a petition was circulated in the spring, citing unwanted costs associated with the change and other objections.

Following the Oct. 24 council vote dictating a June 1 deadline, property owners decided to assert control over the process with their own petition that was submitted to the city Nov. 28.

The property owners released a statement praising Tuesday’s decision and explaining the reasoning behind the newly approved name.

“The new street name, Deans Row Avenue, honors not just one particular dean but will honor deans of the past, present and future at the University of Oklahoma,” the statement read. “[Tuesday night’s decision] was a great moment for the community of Norman to make a change that will last for future generations.

“However, we, the property owners from Deans Row Avenue, were never a part of the initial process for the name change. Property owners were bullied, ridiculed and belittled instead of included in the process, especially if property owners had a different opinion about the street name or how to change the street name. Over the past several months, we, the property owners, met on our own multiple times and discussed the name change.

“Ultimately, it was neighbors working with neighbors that made the difference and we moved forward with a petition and name that over 75 percent of the property owners on the street approved.”

Last month, the oversight committee produced a new policy proposal that allows two options for a street name change found to be offensive: the familiar 75-percent property owner petition or a new avenue that would allow the mayor, three council members or the city’s Human Rights Commission to initiate the process.

The new policy is expected to go before the council in January.

Mack Burke

mburke@normantranscript.com

follow me @mackburke4

Mack Burke is an investigative reporter and award-winning feature writer and columnist for The Norman Transcript. An OU alumnus, he has lived in Norman since 2003.

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