Thursday, November 30, 2023

Video: Movement ‘68 Symposium gathers alumni to discuss 50 years of black activism at MTSU


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Story by Megan Cole / Assistant News Editor

Video by Caleb Revill / News Editor

The Movement 68 Symposium was presented by the Albert Gore Research Center and the MTSU Center for Historic Preservation on Tuesday. This event brought together former and current students to discuss topics such as Forrest Hall, being a black student at MTSU and the importance of civil disobedience.

The keynote speaker was Lae’l Hughes-Watkins, the first African American Archivist at Kent State University. Within her speech, Hughes-Watkins told her story about working at a newspaper and “realizing that backstories were absent.”

She stated that she was an advocate for the oppressed and labeled herself as a “memory worker.” When stating why she wanted to work in helping archive African American history, Hughes-Watkins said this.

“I wanted to play my role in making the academy a space where archives document the full breath, I said the full breath of the human experience,” Hughes-Watkins said. “I am not alone.”

Hughes-Watkins said that the audience was like an archive since they were hearing the stories of the past as well as what’s happening in today’s society.

“Our bodies will serve as an archive, we will bear witness to experiences and testimonies of those who have come before us and who are fighting alongside you now,” Hughes-Watkins said.

Hughes-Watkins closed her remarks by thanking each of the people that were on the panel. She said that each of the panelists contributed in different ways.

“All of whom have been instrumental in a fight for equality and for social justice,” Hughes-Watkins said. “A fight that began long before any of us were born that started in part off the shores of the African coast and continued on the battlefields of the civil war and remained in the protest of Forrest Hall.”

The panel was comprised of Sylvester Brooks, Dr. Phyllis Hickerson-Washington, Dr. Michael McDonald, Dr. Vincent Windrow, Andre Canty and Arionna White. Each of the speakers had attended MTSU at one point as students since the 70’s and they each had stories that impacted MTSU.

Brooks, a founding member of the Black Student Union and guest columnist for Sidelines, fought for bridging the racial divide through written articles and student activism on campus. Brooks wrote an article titled “Dixie: What Does It Mean?” posing questions about the MTSU mascot and furthering activism against MTSU’s use of Confederate symbols on campus.

Hickerson-Washington, a charter member of the Eta Psi chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated, discussed what it was like being a student in the 1970s. Her freshman year at MTSU was the start of mandatory integration, she stated that it was a very scary year and she felt as if she was the only black student in the hall.

“I remember watching on TV the civil rights movement, students and adults being sprayed by fire hoses (and) being bitten by the dogs,” Hickerson-Washington said. “My mom and I watched it on TV and I begged her to take me to Nashville so I could be a part of the movement. Young people don’t have fear.”

The first African American student body president at MTSU, McDonald, discussed how his parents helped him become the man he is today. He also shared that he had lost his wife in July due to breast and brain cancer. He said that both of his parents were civil rights activists.

“My mom said ‘There will be people that challenge you and say that you’re too black, there will be people that challenge you and say that you’re not black enough. You have to decide that you’re a man’,” McDonald said.

While campaigning, McDonald said that people would write the words “Kunta Kinte” from the movie Roots on his campaign materials but that it did not stop him.

Windrow, the Associate Vice Provost for the Office of Student Success at MTSU, spoke about how he helped remove the bronze plaque of Nathan Bedford Forrest from the Keathley University Center in 1989. While it was a lengthy process, Windrow said he was extremely hopeful when he received a call that MTSU would remove the plaque.

Canty, a writer and former president of the 100 Black Men of Greater Knoxville, stated that since MTSU will keep the name of Forrest Hall he does not know if he would support others coming to MTSU. He said that he felt that it was important for MTSU to make a change because it disrespects the African American community.

White is currently a senior at MTSU studying Africana Studies was a leader in the recent protests against Forrest Hall. When discussing how she felt about the name not being changed, White said, “I feel very disrespected.” During her time at MTSU, White stated that she had felt disrespected by teachers and others.

Near the end of the panel, Brooks spoke about the importance of voting. He said that this was the one significant way in which people can create change. He said that in order to create change people must understand where white supremacists stand with their beliefs so that they can enact further change.

“You also need to march to the voting booths,” Brooks said.

Moderators Barbara Scales and Sarah Calise asked the panelists about their experiences with and views on the Forrest Hall controversy.
See the above video to hear more from the panelists.
To contact News Editor Caleb Revill, email

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

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