Photos by Olivia Ladd//Assistant Lifestyles Editor
On Thursday night, the Forrest Hall Task Force met in the KUC theatre to hear voices from organizations at the final forum to discuss the name change of Forrest Hall.
Since the controversy sparked in June, students, faculty and alumni have protested the name of MTSU’s military science building, citing Forrest’s involvement in the Ku Klux Klan and the Fort Pillow Massacre.
In August, university president Sidney McPhee announced that he would form a committee to make a recommendation on whether or not the name should be changed. Since then, the committee has held two other open-forum meetings to hear the concerns of the MTSU and Murfreesboro communities.
Though the most recent meeting sparked controversy, Thursday’s final meeting resulted in the largest uproar as activists in support of the name change argued with the committee and chanted in the meeting, before ultimately marching to McPhee’s home for a protest.
Before the meeting:
Brandon Woodruff, an MTSU senior and activist of the Talented Tenth student rights organization, stood on the second floor of the Student Union Building around 1 p.m. Thursday, bellowing his cause and encouraging students to get involved at the upcoming meeting.
“If you care anything about black and brown students, like I care about caucasian students, you will stand with me,” Woodruff yelled. “You will stand with my group. You will stand with everybody in favor of the name change.”
At 5:30, the Forum opened with a forward from Forrest Hall Task Force chairman and MTSU history professor, Derek Frisby, describing the guidelines for the evening’s meeting.
“In the spirit of this debate,we can agree that all opinions should be respected,” Frisby said. “Inappropriate language or behavior has no place in this auditorium tonight.”
Unlike the first two meetings, the third meeting only recognized members of organizations and required the organizations to submit statements to the committee prior to the meeting.
“This is the first time that we will engage the committee members in this format,” Frisby explained. “Speakers will come to the podium and hear questions from the committee.”
With between eight and eleven committee members present at different parts of the meeting, members of 10 “organizations” took the podium to speak.
The Change the Name of Forrest Hall group spoke first, represented by MTSU senior Arrin Cooper.
“First, I’ll say that Confederate flag and monuments are offensive reminders of the worst aspects of southern culture,” Cooper said. “What the Confederacy fought for is not in line with what this school stands for.”
Cooper was followed by Greg Tucker, a representative of the Rutherford County Historical Society.
“The historical society is concerned about the process because of the misrepresentations of history and the false history which seems to be promoted behind the change the name,” Tucker said. “Only two people involved with the American Civil War were mourned on their death by thousands of former slaves. One was Abraham Lincoln, the other was Nathan Bedford Forrest.”
Tucker also said assertions of Forrest’s involvement with the KKK was misinterpreted due to changes and “three different generations” of the Klan over the years.
Louis Woods, MTSU history professor and president of the MTSU black faculty association, later took the podium to advocate a name change.
“The history department as a faculty has difficulty to retain diverse students and faculty,” Woods said.
Woods also detailed a time when he was taking a perspective faculty member on a tour, but said she “stopped dead in her tracks” when she heard the name of Forrest Hall. Woods said she was offered the position, but declined to take it following the tour.
Claiming himself as a representative of the organization “Rutherford County,” Greg Tucker took the podium again, this time claiming a personal relationship with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., not to oppose the name change, but to oppose the process.
“I have mixed-race kids and close friends who have killed people who look like my wife, but I don’t want to offend them,” Tucker said. “…we should have retired the building and named it something different, decided by the community…and it’s not too late for that.”
Other organizations who spoke were: MT Solidarity, Sons of the Confederacy, NAACP Rutherford, NAACP MTSU, The Talented Tenth and the Military Science Alumni Society.
Towards the end of the meeting, demonstrators began freely responding to the committee and speakers, despite Frisby’s guidelines, and members of the audience stood with signs reading “F–k white supremacy,” “MTSU Supports Racism,” and “You passing bills, Bill?” aimed for the committee.
After the meeting:
Once Frisby dismissed the meeting, members of the Talented Tenth and other activist
organizations stood and chanted, “Change the damn name” and “To McPhee’s house,” and they left the auditorium. From there, activists met in the hallway and gathered to march to McPhee’s house.
Protestors chanted from the KUC, passed Forrest Hall, and to the president’s house on the southwest side of campus.
Protestors arrived at McPhee’s house and were told to stay on the outside of the police line by several officers on scene. Activists were also told McPhee wasn’t home at the time of their arrival. Activists gathered and read their list of demands aloud, starting over when McPhee came out to hear them.
McPhee and students, led by Brandon Woodruff, discussed the students’ concerns with the formation and decision-making of the Forrest Hall Task Force.
“Knowing that we have had death threats, knowing that we have been called n—–s, knowing that we have students who have been reported to judicial affairs from the committee chair, what are you willing to do,” Woodruff asked. “What can you do as the university president to ensure protection of the black and brown students and the white students who are advocating for this name to be changed?”
McPhee then assured Woodruff he would “condemn” and “handle” any specific incidents of disrespect or threats to the students within his campus authority.
“In our first demand in our letter to you, we ask for you to formally and properly apologize to black and brown students,” Talented Tenth activist Arionna White asked. “Will you do that?”
“Why would I do that? What have I done to black and brown students,” McPhee responded.
The committee has an April deadline to make a formal recommendation to president McPhee on whether or not the name should change. From there, McPhee will have to chose to accept the recommendation before sending to the Tennessee Board of Regents to be approved.
Should a name change pass the committee, McPhee and the TBR, the name change would still have to be approved by a two-thirds vote in the Tennessee Historical Society before the name could change, present with the revised Tennessee Heritage Protection Act of 2016, a bill sponsored by Forrest Hall Task Force member, appointed by president McPhee, Sen. Bill Ketron.
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