By Mayor Eric Dial
The mural in Tyrone’s town hall has many pieces and themes — just like our community. Tyrone is a gratifyingly diverse town with a unique history extending back to Georgia’s founding. In the same way, Tyrone is in the midst of growth and expansion as the home to thriving businesses and neighborhoods.
With that growth come pressing challenges, from infrastructure to parks to roads to zoning to public safety and services. In order to meet those challenges, our community must continue to work together in relative harmony.
In the wake of the chaos in Charlottesville, Virginia, a few weeks ago, our nation has been rocked by sometimes violent protests against historical symbols of our shared past, including Confederate statues.
In some instances, we are now seeing those same, sometimes violent challenges against non-Civil War related historical symbols, as well. Such chaos, without a reasoned and shared approach to resolving the matter with civil discussion, runs the risk of ripping apart communities. We cannot let that happen in Tyrone.
I was asked by a local television reporter about my personal opinion of the mural. I am not personally offended by the mural, no more than I am offended by the Cyclorama, the state Capitol and its numerous statues and paintings depicting Georgia’s long history, nor the hundreds of battlefield memorials around our state.
For the record, I am opposed to erasing history, however painful or prideful it may be. Re-writing history is the path to ignorance, which is dangerous. How we memorialize our history, and where, is a matter for consensus to find the appropriate balance between depiction and celebration of the realities of our history.
But the truth is, my opinion and the opinions of your Town Council are not what are important. The shared consensus of our community is what’s important. Town Hall is the people’s chamber.
The curtain we have set up behind the dais in Town Hall is not a permanent answer to the questions and opinions raised about the mural’s contents. The reason for the curtain at this particular time is so that we as a community can have civil dialogue about the permanent future of the mural.
Town Hall belongs to our community. The 21-year-old mural likewise belongs to the community. It ought to be our community that has the opportunity to provide full input before there is a final determination as to what should be done with the mural.
A good suggestion has been raised to ask a citizen panel to review the mural and the community sentiments about it in order to report a consensus recommendation. This would allow our community to voice our viewpoints with the goal of agreement rather than to let this issue be used by some as a political weapon going forward.
Across America, communities are dealing with these same issues. Some are doing a good job of listening to their citizens and conducting open dialogue. Others are not.
We have the power in Tyrone to be an example of how to do this with dignity, candor and courage, respecting one another’s opinions without necessarily sharing them. That’s how we resolve matters within families, and it’s how we should address this matter in Tyrone.
[Eric Dial is in his second term as mayor of the town of Tyrone, Ga.]