NAACP: Rename MTSU building

Brian Wilson, Daily News Journal, March 31, 2016

MURFREESBORO — The Tennessee conference of the NAACP is calling for state leaders to denounce the name of Forrest Hall at Middle Tennessee State University and criticized legislation that made it tougher to change the name of the ROTC building.

The state NAACP conference specifically asked the university’s Forrest Hall Task Force and the Tennessee Historical Commission to vote to rename the building dedicated after controversial Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest.

“It’s hard to believe in this day and age that we would still be promoting a Confederate general,” said Gloria Sweet-Love, the president and director of the the Tennessee State Conference NAACP, in an interview.

“It’s an affront to (the students) every day who, knowing the history of this man, have to walk past this building.”

While critics have questioned Forrest’s role as a leader in the Ku Klux Klan and how his troops handled the Fort Pillow massacre in West Tennessee, supporters call the Confederate general a brilliant military mind who denounced the KKK before his death.

A task force was convened in 2015 to recommend to MTSU President Sidney McPhee whether to change the name. After that recommendation is made, McPhee can choose to request a name change from the Tennessee Board of Regents and the Tennessee Historical Commission.

Sweet-Love said the efforts to change the name of the building have been challenged by a law sponsored by state Sen. Bill Ketron, who serves on the Forrest Hall Task Force.

The legislation passed by the state General Assembly and signed into law later in March requires a two-thirds vote from the Tennessee Historical Commission to rename or remove memorials honoring wars and conflicts and those who participated in them.

“For Sen. Ketron to pass this kind of b ill with student and community opposition, I think it’s an attempt to alter the Forrest Hall Task Force,” Sweet-Love said.

Ketron disputed the NAACP’s claims about the law, saying that the legislation was created to provide a pathway and procedures for those types of changes to be considered through the Tennessee Historical Commission.

He defended the bill’s requirement for a two-thirds majority vote and said t here was an appeals process through the state court system if the entity asking for the change disagreed with a historical c ommission decision.

“Something as serious as changing history should require a two-thirds vote,” Ketron said.

FOCUS Act challenged

The NAACP conference also criticized Gov. Bill Haslam‘s proposal to create local governing boards for Tennessee Board of Regents universities and failed legislation to defund the University of Tennessee’s diversity office in a news release published Wednesday afternoon..

The TBR reform legislation could damage Tennessee State University by allowing state officials and personnel to appoint TSU board members “who are unaffiliated or may be hostile to the university.”

“This governance structure will undermine TSU’s autonomy, endanger its economic stability, and could radically alter TBR’s academic and tenure-evaluation processes,” the release stated.

The NAACP conference also feared the reforms would open the door for the University of Tennessee to have greater influence in the Nashville region and “allow it to wrest control of TSU’s proprietary rights in the region,” the release stated.

The Haslam administration said TSU administrators provided input on the legislation that’s been reflected in its latest version, said Jennifer Donnals, Haslam’s press secretary.

“The FOCUS Act is an important step forward in the Drive to 55 for all universities, including Tennessee State University, and will result in more empowered colleges that will connect to their local communities,” Donnals said. “We’ve collected feedback from TSU throughout this process and that is reflected in the amendment that makes the bill.”

The Tennessean’s Adam Tamburin contributed to this report.

Reach Brian Wilson at 615-278-5165. Follow him on Twitter @brianwilson17.

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