Tennessee Historical Commission denies MTSU’s petition to rename Forrest Hall

Photo by Sarah Grace Taylor  / MTSU Sidelines Archive 

After a rigorous hearing in the William R. Snodgrass Building in Nashville on Friday, the Tennessee Historical Commission voted to deny MTSU’s request to rename Forrest Hall.

The petition, originally submitted 17 months ago, would have been the last step in a nearly three-year process to remove Confederate General, slave owner and Ku Klux Klan leader Nathan Bedford Forrest’s name from the building.

MTSU students, alumni and faculty began the most popularized protests against the name in 2015 after a known supporter of the Confederacy shot and killed nine people in a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina.

After sealing the approval of MTSU’s Forrest Hall Task Force, University President Sidney McPhee and the Tennessee Board of Regents, the request had to go up against the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act of 2016, requiring a two-thirds majority vote in favor of “removal, relocation or renaming of a memorial that is, or is located on, public property.”

In his extensive testimony, McPhee argued that the university has never considered the building a memorial and that the name causes “confusion, disruption, conflict, tension and all things that should not be a part of an educational institution.”

McPhee also cited recent vandalism on campus from a white supremacist organization and threats of disruptive and potentially violent activity on campus when a “White Lives Matter” rally was to take place in Murfreesboro.

After hearing from McPhee and five other witnesses familiar with the university’s attempt to rename the building, the commission voted. Fifteen of the commission members voted against the renaming of the building, and seven voted in favor of MTSU’s request, with several members leaving before the end of the hearing.

MTSU can now decide to appeal the decision through court.

“We felt we made a very compelling argument on why the name change was in the best interest of the university,” McPhee said Friday afternoon. “So, we are disappointed that our request failed to receive approval from two-thirds of the commission as required by law. We will be meeting in the coming days to review the matter and determine
our next course of action.”

Two petitions have been filed with the Tennessee Historical Commission under the current provisions: MTSU’s Forrest Hall renaming and a request from Memphis to remove a statue of Forrest.

Both have been denied by the commission.

For MTSU alumnus Brandon Woodruff, one of the founding members of the MTSU Talented Tenth activism group, the outcome was disappointing but predictable.

“Today’s decision was expected by our group,” said Woodruff, who is now a candidate for the State House of Representatives in District 28. “The students and university took a big ‘L’ – a lesson – that is. We learned that our nation still judges off the color of our skin and not by the content of our character. However, in this instance, the negative content of Forrest’s character, which this decision should have been judged by, was overshadowed simply by the color of his skin. For many of those in the Talented Tenth, this journey was the first awakening of the issues we, as black Americans, not only face on college campuses all over America but will have to face everywhere for the rest of our lives. It served as a conscious revolution.”

To contact News Editor Andrew Wigdor, email newseditor@mtsusidelines.com.

For more news, follow us at www.mtsusidelines.com, on Facebook at MTSU Sidelines and on Twitter at @Sidelines_News.

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  1. Daniel Shaw-Remeta
    Feb 23, 2018 - 12:08 PM

    I think these issues regarding names of buildings and monuments in memory of certain historical figures are very interesting. I’ve noticed that some people feel very passionate about something I personally have almost no emotional connection to, and it’s interesting because I’m forced to look at the situation from an alternative perspective. I will note that I’m a white male, and my first instinct is to say something like, “That’s American history, and whether this man was good or not, for some reason he was seen as historically significant by the people of his time and that point in itself is the acknowledgement of history. Why would you want to erase that, good or bad?” However, I understand my lack of emotional attachment to what this man was: A KKK leader and a slave-owner. At the same time, I think about all the famous people who have glorified stories of their deeds who are recognized with monuments, who also I’m sure have skeletons in their closet to at least some degree. Just to mention a few, Lincoln believed African-American people should leave America to solve the issue of slavery, Washington owned slaves and Christopher Columbus destroyed an entire culture and removed people from their homeland (and we have a whole day to recognize him.) Should these people not be recognized? Should we take down their monuments because we don’t believe what they believed or in the things they did, or is that just history? I continuously find myself on the fence about these situations because although I agree people have a right to be offended by some of these monuments, if we take them down, how far does that go? Where’s the consistency? And what does that say about how we treat our history? In my opinion, this is an important topic that seriously needs to be addressed on a national level because it is important to not remove history that reminds us of where we’ve been, and what we’ve become, while it’s also important to recognize the personal emotions of the people who feel particularly bothered by the names of monuments and buildings.




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