Reporters from The Huffington Post visited Oxford Friday as part of its multi-state bus tour, “Listen To America: A HuffPost Road Trip.” The road trip is focused on hearing the personal stories of citizens across the nation and to highlight the issues, concerns and hopes of Americans.
The pitstop concluded with author, journalist and university professor Curtis Wilkie interviewing newly elected Mayor Robyn Tannehill at Off Square Books. The main goal of this public forum was to highlight what works in Oxford.
HuffPost’s Hillary Frey said the choice to visit Oxford was a mix of strategic and personal decision. Frey said she discussed what could be the focus of a public forum in Oxford with Square Books owner Richard Howorth.
“He said, ‘You know, this place just works, and people here know how to work together and how to get things done and move things forward,’ and I have to say that it’s a really different story than what we’re hearing at a lot of places we’re going to,” Frey said. “It’s not that there’s not work to be done, as Robyn (Tannehill) shared with me, but it’s just a really cool vibe to be here and feel a place that has a sense of harmony to it and a real authentic since of diversity.”
Tannehill said she loves to brag about Oxford.
“That’s one of my favorite things about being mayor is that I get to kind of be the cheerleader for Oxford, and there is so much good going on here; it’s a great place to tout,” she said.
The first topic brought up was the lack of partisanship in the college town, which Tannehill credited as one of Oxford’s best attributes.
“I really love being on a board where everybody comes at things from very different backgrounds and very different perspectives, but I think that’s what helps us arrive at some very creative solutions,” Tannehill said. “The truth is, Democrats and Republicans pick up trash the same way and pave roads the same way and run park commissions the same way, and you know we all have, in this small town, a whole lot more in common than we do things that divide us.”
She said Oxford works because of reasons like that.
Although the discussion highlighted Oxford’s successful attributes, the mayor and Wilkie both admitted there’s still a need for improvement.
“Oxford has had a long history of wrestling with our Confederate symbols, our Confederate flags (and) our statues,” Wilkie said. “For those not familiar with the state flag of Mississippi: in one corner it contains the stars and bars of the Confederate flag and is the only state that continues to do so.”
Tannehill, who wrote the resolution two-and-a-half years ago to not fly the state flag on any city property, which passed unanimously, continues to stand by her decision.
“I think that it’s time for us to have a flag that unifies us,” Tannehill said. “I think that it’s time for Mississippi to look toward our future.”
With that being said, the mayor said her time could have possibly been better spent focusing on other aspects of the community.
“I spent an enormous amount of time on that issue and we … hand-addressed that resolution to everyone in our state legislature and, I might add, did not get one response.”
Wilkie said there are deeper issues behind flags and statues, such as what they stand for.
“Really the truth about flags and statues … we can move them, we can change them, we can keep them. Changing any of those things doesn’t really change the situation or the tension that exists,” Tannehill said. “We have to change hearts and minds to do that. I’d rather see us spending less time talking about statues and less time talking about flags and more time talking about being respectful of how everybody feels.”
Wilkie said the people of Oxford need to communicate more.
“I don’t think that it’s any question that we all need to talk to each other more than we do … but as someone who has lived all over the country, it’s not something that is confined to Oxford, Mississippi; that problem exists everywhere,” Wilkie said.