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.”
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