Student protesters calling for the renaming of Forrest Hall began meeting last October, which was appropriate, being the tenth month and the group adopting the name the Talented Tenth, a term coined 75 years ago by W.E.B. Du Bois.
According to MTSU sophomore and member of Talented Tenth Arionna White, the group is an unofficial campus organization focused on protecting African American and minority students from racism.
White said members discussed forming the group before President Sidney McPhee announced the Forrest Hall renaming task force in June.
“It’s to help diminish racial tension on campus, period,” White said. “It just so happens that Forrest Hall was the first task.”
McPhee initiated the task force after debates grew about Confederate imagery on public property following the June 2015 mass shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
MTSU’s military science building, named after Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general and former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, has faced controversy in the past, and the task force was created to engage the community in the debate.
There have been two task force open forums since McPhee established the committee, and Talented Tenth has made an effort to speak at each meeting. At the most recent public meeting on Feb. 24, Talented Tenth took their plan of action one step further.
“We didn’t plan to protest until the second engagement simply because we knew it was going to be community-wide,” White said, “and Forrest Hall is a community issue.”
On the night of the meeting, White said she felt the growing tension between community members against the name change and supporters of the name change from the parking lot before the meeting began.
Shortly into the meeting, White said a member of the audience interrupted a Talented Tenth speaker to accuse the African American students near him of being unintelligent and illiterate.
Another Talented Tenth member and MTSU senior Brandon Woodruff took the floor once the crowd calmed after the previous comments.
“Our concern is not only with Forrest Hall, but more so with the university’s history of mistreating black students,” Woodruff said before speaking directly to McPhee. “President McPhee, we know there are wealthy alumni who put money into this school who you may be afraid to upset, but I promise you that 25 percent of your student body is much, much worse.”
After Woodruff’s speech concluded, Talented Tenth began their protest by chanting “black lives matter” until being escorted out of the meeting.
“It wasn’t going to get violent, but at times you just have to make sure that your voice is being heard,” White said.
Immediately following the meeting, she said that members of Talented Tenth were threatened by members of the community and had to be escorted to their cars. White continued to feel tension in the community days after the meeting.
“I just find it really interesting that they have to call backup on us because we started protesting yet no one really paid much attention when a girl was threatened (while leaving the meeting),
Members of the Talented Tenth also find Sen. Bill Ketron’s involvement on the committee to be controversial as he supports the bill to amend The Heritage Act, suggesting a bias against the name change.
“A lot of us feel as though this task force is disrespectful,” White said. “How can you have somebody that’s on the task force who is so deeply biased about it?”
Despite recent challenges, White said that members of the Talented Tenth remain optimistic. With 31 members currently, the group is focusing on writing speeches for the third public meeting next week. They are still discussing a plan of action if the name of Forrest Hall does not get changed.
After the Forrest Hall meetings are over, White said that Talented Tenth will focus on other changes they’d like to see on campus and in the community.
This article appeared in our March 21 print edition. For more of our Forrest Hall coverage, click here.