- Associated Press - Monday, November 13, 2017

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) - Since the city of Norman set a June 1 deadline to change the name of DeBarr Avenue, advocates of the change have praised the decision. Many remain eager to see it changed sooner rather than later, but the street, which founding University of Oklahoma professor and state and national KKK leader Edwin DeBarr named after himself, isn’t the only issue.

The Norman Transcript reports that the DeBarr Historic District, recognized by the National Register of Historic Places, encompasses a roughly six-block area north of the University of Oklahoma and was listed in 1991 as the first residential district to provide housing for faculty and students of the University of Oklahoma.

Activist Deon Osborne said he has heard speculation that the name was chosen in response to DeBarr’s name being removed from the OU chemistry building in the late 1980s.

Regardless, he said it, too, needs to change. But for now, he said he’s focusing on the street.

“Our main focus is to make sure that DeBarr Avenue gets taken care of,” he said. “But this is just the beginning. This isn’t just about one street. This whole issue is just a part of the larger issue of not addressing the disparities that minorities face.

“It’s not that this street-naming issue is more important than others. It’s just to show that it’s important that we make a statement in our society about what we want to value and who we want to honor.”

Ward 6 City Council Representative Breea Clark said the effort to build an inclusive community won’t stop with the renaming of the street.

“I’m interested in working with groups to get that changed, but since we didn’t name the district, I’m not sure how the process will play out,” she said. “It’s on the radar and we want to be consistent, but I want to focus on what’s affecting our residents most directly.”

Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer Lynda S. Ozan said to change the name of the district, the city will need to contact the state Historic Preservation Office requesting the name change.

“We will, in turn, process that request and forward it to the National Park Service for the change,” she said.

Ozan said the National Register itself is an honorific designation.

“It does not come with any protections,” she said. “‘Protections’ come in the form of local zoning and ordinances. The city of Norman has a Historic Preservation Commission that oversees projects in their locally zoned neighborhoods.”

City historic preservation officer Anais Starr said she has heard a lot of discussion on the topic. Nobody has submitted an official request to change the name, but she’s anticipating that push.

“We don’t know when that’s going to come about,” she said. “I don’t know what we would do, but I do know that it would involve some request through the historic commission.

“In this case it’s a little weird. We’ve never done this before. As soon as we can figure out who, what, when and where, we can proceed. My understanding is there’s another meeting on Nov. 8 where this will be discussed further. Maybe that will be a topic of discussion, not just changing the street name but the district, that will generate a call to action.”

She said she’s not sure who would have to make the request and will have to check with Ozan and city officials.

“There are other steps that have to take place,” she said. “I don’t know what those steps are, but I know it’s possible.”

Mayor Lynne Miller said the council will look at proposed policy changes to the city’s street naming policy when the oversight committee meets at city hall.

She said the street and the district are different issues, and the DeBarr Historic District isn’t a city-designated district, but the council has taken an interest in addressing the district’s name in the future.

Ozan said the process could take some time and won’t begin until the city finalizes the name change of the street.

“Because the city participates in our certified local government process, it will go back through the city’s commission and on to our review committee,” she said. “It still goes through the national registration process.

“It would be a substantial change to the nomination and it would take a lot of substantial work, because we’d have to change the street name throughout the entire document and include reasons for why it was changed and why the new name was selected. It’s essentially a rewrite of the nomination.”

Ozan said the original nomination was written by faculty from the OU College of Architecture and submitted in 1991.

“As to why it’s named DeBarr itself, I can’t begin to say why they selected it, aside from the major street being called DeBarr,” she said.


Information from: The Norman Transcript, http://www.normantranscript.com

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