MTSU follows trends against Confederate symbolism


MTSU faculty, students and alumni gather to march to change the name of Forrest Hall on Aug. 27, 2015. (MTSU Sidelines/Sarah Grace Taylor)

Middle Tennessee State University is the latest in a wave of colleges and universities distancing themselves from racial aspects of Southern culture, exemplified by Tuesday night’s recommendation to change the name of Forrest Hall, a campus building named after a Confederate general and Ku Klux Klan leader.

After eight months of deliberation, the university’s Forrest Hall task force met Tuesday to make a recommendation to MTSU’s president, Sidney McPhee, regarding the name. With 12 of the 17 members there, only 10 of whom voted, the task force reached an 8-1-1 decision.

“I believe that the consensus of the committee, with notable opposition, would be to recommend a name change,” task force chair Derek Frisby said.

While Tuesday’s meeting was a milestone in the Forrest Hall debate, it was a small step in the national move toward a new South.

After Dylan Roof, who was photographed numerous times sporting the Confederate flag, shot and killed nine black members of the Charleston AME Church last June, a myriad of Southern colleges and universities began to protest Confederate symbols on their campuses.


MTSU: The Forrest Hall controversy 

As of June 27, 10 days after the Charleston shooting, MTSU students already had 600 signatures on an online petition to change the name of the Army ROTC building named after Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general, slave owner, slave trader and early leader of the Ku Klux Klan.

MTSU philosophy professor Michael Principe speaks out against Forrest Hall at an August protest
MTSU philosophy professor Michael Principe speaks out against Forrest Hall at an August protest.(MTSU Sidelines/ Sarah Grace Taylor)

Though the name had been protested in the past, the Charleston shooting stirred up the most vigorous protest against Forrest Hall in university history.

“I’ve seen this issue brought up many times since I’ve been here,” said MTSU philosophy professor Michael Principe. “But this is by far the most pervasive push against [Forrest Hall] that I’ve seen, which is what it will take to make the university listen.”

The movement, while led predominantly by student activist groups MTSU Talented Tenth and Change the Name of Forrest Hall, had support from many faculty members, alumni and even entire departments.

MTSU’s history, philosophy and political science departments released departmental letters to McPhee recommending the university change the name. In its statement, the MTSU history department called it “morally imperative” that it be changed.

After months of protest, the university formed a committee in October to make a recommendation to McPhee about whether or not the university should change the name.

While MTSU and the Forrest Hall Task Force deliberated in town hall meetings, protests and marches, other schools in the South were making progress.

University of Mississippi: Flagged down 

In September 2015, University of Mississippi student Allen Coon ran for a student government position on the platform that he would try to end the flying of the state flag on campus.

“We knew if we were ever going to have a chance to take the symbol down, it had to be now,” Coon said. “At the time, three of the eight public universities in Mississippi were not flying the flag. … With that knowledge, I thought maybe, legally, we could take the flag down.”

Coon worked with the NAACP chapter on campus and other student organizations to draft a resolution for the student government to consider removing the flags.

The week prior to the resolution vote, about 200 activists rallied in support of removing the state flag. To counter the rally, members of the Ku Klux Klan came to campus to support the flag and counteract Coon’s movement.

“I think having those people, people who hate and disparage, on our campus, fighting FOR the flag is what really did it,” Coon said.

The student government voted 33-15-1 to remove the flags from campus less than a month after the movement started.

“I still can’t believe sometimes that the state flag doesn’t fly at Ole Miss,” Coon said. “For a lot of people, this was the last visage of the ‘old South’ in a public institution, so for us to be able to combat that culture is empowering.”

What’s next for Forrest Hall?

Even with the task force’s recommendation, the decision is far from over.

MTSU senior Dalton Winfree speaks at Forrest Hall meeting (MTSU Sidelines/Sarah Grace Taylor)
MTSU senior Dalton Winfree speaks at Forrest Hall meeting (MTSU Sidelines/Sarah Grace Taylor)

McPhee will have to accept the recommendation and then request a change through the Tennessee Board of Regents. Should the TBR also choose to pass the name change, the Tennessee Historical Commission will have to approve the change with a two-thirds majority.

Frisby predicts that if the name change passes all of the check points, there will still be no change until spring of 2018.

Students who have protested the name change, some for 10 months, are underwhelmed by the progress of the committee.

“It’s been exhausting,” MTSU senior Dalton Winfree said. “It feels good after six months of stalling, but it’s not over yet.”

 

 

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2 Comments

  1. Hkmmtsu2016
    May 12, 2016
    Reply

    I believe the reoccurring trend against Confederate symbolism on college campuses around the nations is timely and just. It is long overdue that the Forrest Hall on MTSU’s campus has gained the spotlight in the community for its need to change names. Forrest Hall is named after a former Confederate general and Ku Klux Klan leader, and his name on the building represents a connection to an infamous member of regional history. The process is painstakingly long and has to go through various committee’s approvals before anything can be changed. The fact that local groups such as MTSU’s Talented Tenth and Change the Name of Forrest Hall have opened this controversy up, gained many more people’s support than before, and have obtained many department heads and presidents of MTSU involvement is phenomenal. As a student of MTSU, I am astounded that it has taken this long to get the ball rolling on the matter and as philosophy professor Michael Principe stated in the article, I have seen the subject come up a couple times. Something about this time seems different though, there are more people involved that are passionate about changing the name including more than just students and teachers. I hope that the student organizations keep pushing for the change of the building’s name in the future. If MTSU can get the name changed, we will join the nation in the shedding of the old world views and represent a higher age of thinking and freedom.

  2. DodaYoda
    May 16, 2016
    Reply

    I find that Nathaniel Bedford Forrest’s name should remain on the building simply because it is a matter of history. When events such as the Dylan Roof shooting occur, the news media stirs the public into a hysterical state by blaming outside issues. Perhaps it is apart of the corporate agenda to keep the racial tension amongst the southerners and the country. This type of support to change history is unjust and based on emotion rather than reasoning. It is not timely considering it is 150 years after emancipation, and changing one word on an Army building for a college campus won’t help anyone forget anything about the South’s past. It reminds me of the book 1984 by George Orwell where history is rewritten daily and facts are erased so that people forget what is happening in the world.

    Our country had one of the largest Civil Wars in history and ever since, our country has grown prosperously from participating in war around the world. After the Civil War, Ulysses S Grant even passed the Klu Klux Act of 1871, giving the president the power to “declare martial law, impose heavy penalties against terrorist organizations, and use military force to suppress the Ku Klux Klan (KKK).” This law led to “nine South Carolina counties being placed under martial law and thousands of arrests.” I understand the efforts of the community to change Forrest Hall is in a positive light, and I am also on the same side as far as the overall point as to why the college should change the name. Racism is bad. The Confederate Army was not just fighting for slavery and was not all made up of racists. Nathaniel Bedford Forrest was the very first Grand Wizard of the KKK; however, over the years, he distanced himself from the radical actions of the group (they would not only attack African-American but also White Republicans). For this issue, I say the name should remain. It is not worth the effort in my opinion. More time and money could be invested into pertinent issues of the lives of all Americans. We are all equally unequal right now, and this year’s 2016 election may change the idea of what slavery truly is. For as long as we are reliant on the U.S. dollar, I believe we are all under slavery to the monetary system.

    http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/ku-klux-act-passed-by-congress

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