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Younger generation in Norman wants DeBarr name removed

Olivier Rey / Red Dirt Report
OU student Deon Osborne advocating for the DeBarr name revmoval on Sept. 26 at Norman City Hall.
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NORMAN, Okla. -- OU students from the University of Oklahoma, led by local activist Deon Osborne,  asked the Norman City Council to rename DeBarr Avenue.

Osborne, a strategic political communication and video intern for OU’s marketing department, made a passionate statement against DeBarr’s legacy.

“We are not trying to erase history. We are not trying to change history. We are talking to update it. This is about one street named after one man who did terrible things,” said Osborne. “My people have been silent for a long time.”

According to Osborne (who is also a contributor to Red Dirt Report), the cost of the street renaming should be $322.50. He added that if the city was not willing to pay, they will be able to raise money for it. He asked also that the DeBarr sign street be placed in the local museum, for history.

To ensure DeBarr's name is removed, Osborne requested that an official public meeting was organized by the city of Norman.

“To come together and decide as a city as a community,” Osborne said. “I hope you prove me right.”

The street is named for Edwin DeBarr, a former Ku Klux Klan leader and one of the first four professors and also vice president of the University of Oklahoma until 1923. Oklahoma had up to 100 Ku Klux Klan chapters in the 1920s.

Osborne’s demand was followed by J.D. Baker, the president of the OU Student Government Association to rename the street in favor of George and Barbara Henderson, the first African-American couple to purchase a home in Norman.

During his, 40-year tenure at OU, Henderson tried to promote ethnic diversity and interracial understanding at local and national levels. His last book called Race and the University: A Memoir talk about his life in Norman and students during the University of Oklahoma’s own civil rights movement.

“They should be honored,” Baker said.

Then several OU students and Normanites advocated in favors of the DeBarr street removal. One of them pointed out that the University of Oklahoma already removed the name of DeBarr from the Chemistry Building in 1988. And that a similar demand has been made decades ago to the city of Norman without success.

“You have the opportunity to make future history or to sweep this under the rug again,” said one of the advocates for DeBarr removal.

Councilmembers including Kate Bierman, Aleisha Karjala, Sereta Wilson, Stephen Tyler Holman and Breea Clark expressed their support in favor of the demand.

“They do not go unheard,” said Karjala, councilmember Ward 2.

Clark, councilmember Ward 6 and the one who started the online petition to remove DeBarr name in March (over 1,400 signatures) gave a final speech on DeBarr’s  life with the KKK.

“The Klan was wrong in the 20’s, it was wrong in the 80’s and unless of renouncing our democratic principles it would be wrong in the 2000’s,” Clark said. “Are we the Norman of the 1950s?”

She asked the city of Norman to investigate the street name because DeBarr name seems inappropriate by the standards of the city, a call widely applauded in the public.

“They heard us, I think they are going to move forward and look at this,” Osborne later told Red Dirt Report.

But this is only the beginning for the advocates of the DeBarr street name removal, Clark said it is an unprecedented action recognizing that she didn’t how the demand will proceed. Seventy-five percent of the property owners on the street have to approve it to get the name changed, which is not the case today.

Ward 4’s council member Bill Hickman, whose ward includes DeBarr Avenue, didn’t express any support to the movement.

“As the representative of the people, it is my obligation to listen to what people say in my Ward,” said Hickman to Red Dirt Report. “We need to work together with the community and the folks who live on the (DeBarr) Street.” 

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Olivier Rey

Olivier has traveled in 20 countries on six continents before landing in Norman. Native French...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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