Fayette Newspapers Editorial: Tyrone needs to remove its mural from town hall

Councilwoman Gloria Furr, who voted to keep the mural in place, talks with citizen Michael Thompson, who spoke out against it.

There’s a problem in Tyrone. It’s not one that’s unique to Tyrone. It’s not one that arose this month, and if Thursday, Sept. 4 was any indication, it’s not one that’s going away anytime soon.

The problem is a severe lack of understanding of the challenges a black American faces in this country today. This isn’t about a Confederate soldier holding a Confederate flag on a mural that takes up the entirety of the wall behind the Tyrone’s councilmen and councilwomen. It’s about something more, and that was evidently clear during Tyrone’s latest town hall meeting.

A mural painted by Pam Hardin—may she rest in peace—and her husband Jim, in 1996 is not part of history. It is a piece of art about history. Whether or not that history is completely accurate, that is a debate for another time. Whether or not the mural should be removed from Town Hall, that shouldn’t be up for debate. This is not an issue of left vs. right. This is about doing what’s right. For all citizens, not just for some.

The Tyrone town council voted 3-1 on Sept. 4 in a motion to leave the mural as is. Linda Howard, Gloria Furr and Ken Matthews all decided the mural shouldn’t be moved. Councilman Ryan Housley was the lone councilman who voted against the motion.
“As a council, we do represent everyone,” Housley said, “so I believe perhaps the best way forward is to develop some sort of a committee that creates a dialogue with the community and helps establish a road map forward because we don’t want to exclude anybody. We do want to be inclusive.”

Housley wishes to be inclusive, and perhaps the rest of Tyrone does too. But the residents and three council members made clear at the town council meeting they don’t know how to create that inclusiveness. Certainly not with the type of rhetoric used at the meeting.

A white woman asked a black woman if she’s ever been to Africa. Two white councilwomen shared stories of picking cotton when they were younger as a way to explain their reasoning for why the mural should remain in its place. This is the same mural that reminds black residents of slavery.

State Rep. Derrick Jackson said “This is not about history.” He was right.

Mayor Eric Dial, whose vote is only needed in the case of a tiebreaker said at the end of the meeting, “I trust that many are genuinely offended by it.” But Howard, Furr and Matthews were not bothered that citizens took offense to it. Some in attendance grabbed hold of the narrative that people will find anything to be offended by these days. First, it’s the mural. Next, it’s something else.

“Where are they going to go next,” resident Mark Tippens asked. “The mural represents the city of Tyrone.”

The statements of the Tyrone residents supporting the mural constantly stepped over each other. One would say the mural is representative of Tyrone, and another would say it doesn’t represent the Tyrone of today. One would say they’re proud of Tyrone’s history. Another would say they’re not proud of the history, but that history should not be messed with. One resident, Melissa Hill, said, “If that mural was a voting booth with only men lined up, I wouldn’t want to cover it up.” What?

Again, the mural is not historical. It was painted only 21 years ago.

While not all things said at the meeting were meant to offend, they didn’t exactly help to teach others to love their neighbor. The three council members who voted against changing the mural were not changing their minds, but it’s time for everyone to be more open-minded. With a television studio coming to the town, and a likely more diverse populace on its way, town hall won’t continue to be split so unevenly on this issue. It will continue to come up until something is done to fix it.

If you want to honor Confederate heritage, attend a Sons of Confederate Veterans meeting. If you want to remember your history, visit a museum. A mural with a Confederate soldier standing in the foreground doesn’t belong in a town hall. It never has. It never will.

Housley’s recommendation of creating a committee to discuss the issue was a perfect solution to make both sides happy, at least for now. But the majority who wanted to keep the mural was unwilling to listen to the voices in the minority. Just because something has been in existence for a while, it doesn’t make it right. It’s time to listen. It’s time to change.

The town of Tyrone should be less focused on the ugly history of its past and more focused on the ugly history it’s creating for the future.

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