New petition aims to keep name on hall
By BYRON HENSLEY
Supporters of the name "Forrest Hall" for MTSU’s military science building are counter-attacking a move to change the building’s name with a petition drive.
In response to a petition signed by 205 members of the MTSU community, the Student Government Association (SGA) recently voted 19-5 to recommend dropping the name "Forrest" from the building, named for controversial Confederate cavalry general Nathan Bedford Forrest.
"We learned about the petition that went before the SGA last week. A couple of people were upset about that," said MTSU sophomore Matthew Hurtt, one of the organizers of the petition drive to retain the "Forrest" name, started in the middle of the week.
"We thought that 205 signatures was not a significant representation of the MTSU community," Hurtt said. "If so many people are disgruntled about this, we thought we could do a counter drive."
A native of Chapel Hill, Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest is widely considered the best cavalry general of the Civil War. Locally, he is perhaps best remembered for liberating Murfreesboro from occupying Union troops.
Many also believe that after the war, Forrest was involved in the creation of the Ku Klux Klan, a charge which may be at the heart of the drive to remove his name from the building at MTSU. That charge is referred to into the counter-petition now being circulated:
"Forrest’s relationship with and involvement in the Ku Klux Klan is not clear," according to the language of the latest petition. "Some reports suggest his involvement was critical, while still others note he was not involved at all.
"However, it is a historical fact that Nathan Bedford Forrest publicly denounced the violent actions by the Ku Klux Klan and called for its disbanding in 1869."
"Forrest’s relationship and involvement with the KKK is not clear," Hurtt said. "The history surrounding Forrest and the KKK is very hazy. Also, the building on campus is a military building, and Forrest was known for his military strategy during the Civil War.
"When the Union troops had occupied Murfreesboro, he came up from Chattanooga and liberated Murfreesboro from the Union troops, which was a significant contribution to the Murfreesboro community, we thought."
SGA Sen. Steve Disser, who wrote the motion calling for the name change, said he respects the right of dissenting students to circulate the counter petitions.
"They have every right to do that," he said. "That’s part of what the constitution of the SGA says. Any student can bring a petition with 50 names and present that to the Senate. I just hope that at the end, the general feeling of the entire student body is represented in whatever decision is made.
"I’m open to more debate about it, since so many people have an opinion about it," Disser said. "It will probably end up going on a referendum for the entire student body to decide."
The petition drive is not being organized through a formal campus organization but is being organized informally through Facebook, an online campus social organization, Hurtt said. Anyone interested in the petition may contact Hurtt by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, he said.
The counter-petition is being applauded by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, an organization dedicated to the memory of those who fought for the South during the Civil War, the group’s local president Todd Gober said.
"It was never proven that (Forrest) was in the KKK," Gober said. "His involvement was to help the Confederate veterans become more a part of the reconstruction of the new South. The initial purpose of the KKK was to help those people adapt to the new country.
"Mr. Forrest was just seeking to promote the integration of these veterans back into society and help get them back their voting rights. Unfortunately, the KKK became more violent, and Mr. Forrest didn’t want to be a part of that."
How much the original KKK resembled the KKK of the present is open to debate, Gober said.
"The original organization was a soldiers’ organization to help Confederate veterans. Now it’s a white supremacist organization," he said. "The SCV does not support or condone any of the actions of the KKK today. They misuse and misrepresent the symbols of our Confederate heritage. They bring shame on that, and it’s something we take great offense to."
Gober noted that after the Civil War, Forrest was invited to speak in Memphis to the Independent Order of Pole-Bearers, an organization that was a predecessor to the NAACP.
"This was a community of black people that asked Mr. Forrest to come and be their guest speaker," he said. "He stated he would do anything and everything to help all the black people to reach their full potential. People don’t realize it, but he was one of the first advocates for civil rights."
Forrest’s speech, printed in the Memphis Appeal, may be found on the Web at http://www.tennessee-scv.org/ForrestHistSociety/forrest_speech.html.
— Byron Hensley, 278-5162
Copyright ©2006 The Daily News Journal