From the editors and staff of Sidelines
To: Gov. Bill Lee, Lt. Gov. Randy McNally and members of the Tennessee Historical Commission
Forrest Hall was built in 1954, but it was not until four years later that the building at Middle Tennessee State University was named to honor Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, an early leader of the Ku Klux Klan, an infamously racist slave owner and a white supremacist.
Before the Civil War, Forrest profited from trading enslaved people; during the war, soldiers under Forrest’s command massacred African-American Union soldiers at Fort Pillow; and after the war, Forrest became a prominent leader of the Ku Klux Klan.
Sixty-two years have passed since Forrest – who died in 1877, more than three decades before the university’s founding in 1911 – was honored with his name on a building even though he had no ties to the university.
Now is the time for the honor to end.
The summer of 2020 was a season of reckoning for America. Not since the Civil Rights Movement has the collective conscience of Americans been so pricked. Just as the 1960s was a transformative time that produced great strides in improving racial equality, so has our summer of marches and demonstrations and activism changed us. Unseen injustices are now more visible than ever. The path to true equality lies before us if we choose to head in that direction.
Leaving Forrest’s name emblazoned on one of MTSU’s buildings is a lasting symbol of the school MTSU used to be. Need we remind our fellow students of the university’s past indiscretions: a mascot donned in Confederate garb at football games and the MTSU band playing “Dixie” as the unofficial fight song.
Among the first steps we should take is to remove the 18-inch-high letters spelling out Forrest on a building that’s located near the heart of our campus. Over the past four decades, many have condemned its presence, but as we take a stand in the 21st Century we contend it is not enough to merely condemn the name. Because of Forrest’s actions his name is a tangible remembrance of his contempt for Black people, of a time when men and women were held in bondage by White overseers who considered themselves superior based solely on skin color.
Allowing Forrest’s name to remain on one of our university’s buildings is nothing but a repudiation of all the progressive attitudes and changes that millions of Americans marched for last summer. It’s also a repudiation of the values and integrity of our university.
In 2018 when the university’s request to rename Forrest Hall was denied by the Tennessee Historical Commission, we lamented the decision not to continue the challenge in court. Students, staff and faculty wanted the change.
In 2021, we ask: how can our university pride itself on racial progressiveness, inclusivity and diversity when one of its buildings honors a member of the KKK?
The answer: MTSU can’t.
Textbooks exist for a reason: to preserve and interpret history, so let’s move the discussion on Forrest to the classroom where he belongs. The naming of buildings is an honor that should be reserved for those who deserve memorializing. Let’s remove his name from our campus map.
Sidelines is but a small voice, but with this open letter, appropriately published as we approach the end of Black History Month, we are putting pressure on our leaders. Beginning today, our website will mark the number of weeks that the name of Forrest Hall remains unchanged. It will be a reminder that we haven’t forgotten the issue.
We applaud Gov. Lee’s desire to remove the bust of Forrest in the state capitol. We hope he will support our effort to remove the Forrest name at MTSU.
We also ask the more than 300 student organizations on campus, from Greek life to career-interest clubs to faith groups, to be heard on this issue and join us as co-signers of this request.
Write us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and let us know if you agree it’s time to rename Forrest Hall.
If not us, who?
If not now, when?
Toriana Williams Ashley Barrientos
News Editor Lifestyles Editor