ORU Professor Brings Life to Historical Figures
This story was written by Chris Hsu.
“I don’t believe the Creator ever put down in one place so many pioneers with a vision. There was Indian, White, Jew, Protestant, and Catholic. We worked side by side, shoulder to shoulder, and under these conditions the Tulsa Spirit, as I like to call it, was born and has lived.”
That’s the voice of Wyatt Tate Brady, one of the founding fathers of the City of Tulsa.
Actually, it was Dr. Paul Vickery speaking as him. Vickery is a history professor at Oral Roberts University who goes beyond just studying historical figures. Walking into his classes, you might encounter characters such as W.T. Brady.
“My motto was: a dollars worth of honest goods for a dollar worth in money.”
Dr. Vickery believes performing as historical characters brings out their humanity, allowing audiences to better identify with them.
“It sees history through the eyes of one individual. So we generally study these characters for about a year and read as much as of their own personal writing, and try to get in the mind of some of these famous historical individuals.”
In addition to performing in class, Vickery also takes his show on the road; visiting schools, libraries, museums, even city halls.
“I started back in 1996 with the Tulsa Chautauqua, and my first character was H.L. Mencken, the writer of the Baltimore Sun. I’ve also done Bishop Francis Asbury, the founder of the Methodist Church here in the United States. Henry Ford is probably my most popular character and Senator Joe McCarthy is another individual that has caused interesting conversation.”
Voicing the characters isn’t the whole story. For W.T. Brady, a slick 1920’s era suit and hat makes it seem like the man is actually standing in the room. The same goes for any other character in his arsenal.
“As far as costumes go, we try to dress as the period is. When I’ve gone to the schools we’ve had some of the folks bring out a Model T-Ford or something like that to enhance the learning experience for students.”
Dr. Vickery confessed he likes to work with controversial figures. This is why he chose Wyatt Tate Brady.
“We realize that Brady was a member of the KKK. He apparently participated somewhat in the Tulsa Race Riots, but I don’t think that undoes everything he did for Tulsa.”
Working with characters like Brady reminded Vickery that even historical figures were human.
“He was a man of his times, and I think it is difficult to put 21th century morality back on people a hundred years ago. So I wonder a hundred years from now what people are going say about us: what we’re doing that is fine now, but may not be then.”
Thanks to Dr. Vickery, we are reminded that history is not just about books and classrooms; but about getting to know people who lived before us.