With MTSU preparing to hold a series of forums on debate surrounding the name of Forrest Hall, the Student Senate made the right decision to rescind its initial vote to remove the name.
The latest move gives the university a fresh start as it prepares for presentations on the life of Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Confederate cavalry general who bedeviled Northern leaders with his military genius but also gained notoriety as a pre-war slave trader, commanding officer during the Fort Pillow Massacre and, if not the grand wizard, a leader of the early Ku Klux Klan.
No doubt, Forrest is a lightning rod for controversy, evoking Southern pride for some people while creating ill will for many, especially black Americans who want the symbols of the Old South, segregation and Jim Crow to disappear.
The Student Senate voted to remove Forrest’s name from the Army ROTC building last month after a black student, Amber Perkins, presented a petition with 205 student names asking that the hall’s name be changed.
The group rescinded its vote, however, when a white student, Matthew Hurtt, brought a petition with 1,350 names asking that the decision be reconsidered.
Three forums are to be held beginning in late January, one on Forrest and the use of his name and likeness at the university, a second on the history of the Ku Klux Klan and his involvement, and a third on the Fort Pillow Massacre, in which 262 of 342 black Union troops were killed.
In a collegiate setting, education should be the ultimate goal. These sessions will provide information enabling the university community to make an informed decision before it decides whether to remove Forrest’s name from the ROTC building.
Forums should also help ease the passions many hold on this subject. Yes, slaves were freed and the war ended more than 140 years ago, but it took 100 years for segregation to die, and America is still tainted by the remnants of that horrible institution.
Indeed, slavery and its resulting racism are the single greatest stain on the history of America, a nation founded on freedom and the pursuit of happiness.
In studying the life of Nathan Bedford Forrest, not only will we learn more about our own history but we may be able to confront the demons that continue to plague America and some of our own narrow views.
This issue is not about political correctness. It’s about free speech and providing the opportunity for all people to state their opinions on an issue that is at the crux of the American experience.
Bringing the university community together to study the life and impact of Nathan Bedford Forrest furthers the university’s mission while giving everyone a chance to be heard on this subject.
We call that in itself progress toward the realization of American freedom our Founding Fathers wrote about some 230 years ago
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