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Article on history of street name reveals honoree's objectionable past


Gazette staff June 28th, 2007

What's in a name? A lot, at least when it comes to one street in Norman. The University of Oklahoma student-run newspaper, The Oklahoma Daily, recently shed light on a street in Campus C...

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What's in a name? A lot, at least when it comes to one street in Norman. The University of Oklahoma student-run newspaper, The Oklahoma Daily, recently shed light on a street in Campus Corner, which was named after "a one-time grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan."

 

The inauspicious stretch of road, DeBarr Avenue, north of campus "is a somewhat lesser-known tribute to one of the first four faculty members at (the University of Oklahoma), Edwin C. DeBarr, an honorary vice president at OU," according to Daily writer Kaci Applegate.

 

DeBarr was the first dean of pharmacy at OU, who established the chemistry and chemical engineering departments and pharmacy school, according to the OU College of Pharmacy Web site. And, he was a "strident racist," according to the Daily, citing history prof David W. Levy's book "The University of Oklahoma: A History."

 

"Despite coming from Michigan and being a Republican, Edwin DeBarr admitted to an irrational fear of black people," Levy wrote.

 

Ultimately, DeBarr's KKK activities resulted in his dismissal in 1923 from the university, where he often was referred to as "Daddy" (yikes!), according to the OU pharmacy site. Although he left the university, his name remained behind on the chemistry building, dubbed "DeBarr Hall" in his honor.

 

The designation sparked controversy in the Eighties, when minority students requested the name be changed to sever ties to racism, according to the Daily. But, then-OU prez William Banowsky was hesitant to scrap the appellation.

 

Banowsky said, according to a 1982 Oklahoman article cited in the story, "the university should not rename DeBarr Hall or other university buildings whose names have been designated by other administrators and boards of regents, and which, for better or worse, are a part of the history of the (university)."

 

Hmm. CFN intern Bucky guesses that was back before a donation placarded your name on a building.

 

Students protested when the name remained: "How can I be satisfied when there is a DeBarr Hall at OU?" said Joe Freeman, a former OU Black People's Union president, according the story, citing an Oke report. "It's an embarrassment to anyone (who) believes in racial equality."

 

Eventually, the hall was renamed " it's just called the chemistry building, now " but "DeBarr's memory lingers on through the presence of DeBarr Avenue," Applegate wrote.

 

Not to mention the six-block, National Register-listed "DeBarr Historic District" north of the campus that Bucky found, in the process of googling the man's Norman ties.

 
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