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Our View: Students can play important role in renaming DeBarr Avenue

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DeBarr Avenue
The intersection of DeBarr Avenue and Boyd Street. DeBarr Avenue is named for Edwin DeBarr, a former OU professor and KKK leader. 

As you drive past The Earth Cafe on Flood Avenue, a tri-colored yard sign proclaiming the same message in Spanish, English and Arabic might catch your eye: “No matter where you’re from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor.”

There are more like it sprinkled throughout Norman, a visible manifestation of the diversity and inclusion Norman purportedly values.

But just a mile away, you’ll see another sign — a street sign demarcating DeBarr Avenue. The Daily’s enterprise editor spent the better part of August and September researching and reporting on the ongoing legacy of the street’s namesake, Edwin DeBarr — an OU founder, professor and chaplain of the Ku Klux Klan. 

Current and future renters hold an important bargaining chip in the fight to change DeBarr Avenue’s name: economic power. If students made a concerted effort to stop renting property located on DeBarr while publicly advocating for a name change through city council involvement and SGA action, a clear message would emerge: OU students will not live on a street named after a renowned racist.

When it comes to local politics, it’s easy to feel disengaged as a college student. It’s easy to spend four years in a town, earn a degree and leave. But Norman isn’t just a college town. It’s our home, and it’s our opportunity to show towns like ours how to be better. What we do at OU doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

One of the biggest arguments resisters cite is the inconvenience of changing a street name. Addresses will have to be changed, as well as driver's licenses and other documentation.

No one likes visiting the DMV, but it’s a minor inconvenience for the sake of making Norman a safer, more respectful and inclusive place for people of color to live. If the name change were to happen as proposed, the street’s name would be changed to reflect an infinitely and inherently more positive figure: George Henderson, a civil rights activist, campus leader and the first African-American to own property in Norman. 

The change would primarily require a one-time adjustment for the street’s 25 property owners, and doing so would be the perfect opportunity for these economically influential Normanites to show their support for the city’s motto: “Building an inclusive community.”

It’s hard to know where to start with an issue like this, but it truly is a local challenge with a local solution. At every bi-weekly city council meeting, time is allotted for citizens to make comments to the council — so if you feel strongly about renaming DeBarr, there’s a forum for you to do so on Sept. 26 at 6:30 p.m. at 201 W. Gray St.

Our efforts reflect our values, and have the opportunity to shape those of the children who will grow up here long after we move on. It’s time for us to show once and for all that Edwin DeBarr no longer has any place in Norman.

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