MURFREESBORO, TN — It will be at least six months before the controversial name of a building at Middle Tennessee State University is changed.
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MTSU President Sidney McPhee created a task force on the building’s name and in February 2016 accepted that group’s request to change its name. In June 2016, the Tennessee Board of Regents — at the time, MTSU’s governing body — unanimously approved the request and forwarded it to the Tennessee Historical Commission, which under the Tennessee Historic Preservation Act of 2016 must approved the renaming, just as it must approve the relocation of any monuments. The THPA has drawn increased attention in the wake of the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., as activists look to remove or relocate Confederate monuments. A bust of Forrest which has stood in the State Capitol for nearly 40 years has become a local flashpoint of the controversy, with both of Tennessee’s Republican senators and Republican Gov. Bill Haslam all saying it should be removed.
Forrest Hall was built in 1954 and dedicated with its name in 1958. A frieze on the side of the building depicting Forrest was removed in 2006. For years, a mounted cavalryman in the uniform of Forrest’s Cavalry Corps patrolled the sidelines at MTSU football games, serving as a mascot, but was replaced by a dog named “Ole Blue” in the 1970s, who was himself replaced by the current mascot, a blue Pegasus named “Lightning.” The association of Forrest with the university was persistent, leading to a folk etymology of MTSU’s “Blue Raiders” nickname, with many people falsely assuming that Forrest’s Cavalry was also nicknamed the Blue Raiders. Forrest’s troops, like most of the rest of the Confederacy, wore gray uniforms. MTSU’s nickname was coined in 1934, 23 years after the school’s founding, as an homage to Colgate University’s Red Raiders, for some reason. Forrest himself had no personal association with the school having died 34 years before it opened. He did fight two battles in Murfreesboro, though not in the most well-known Second Battle of Murfreesboro.
Image via Middle Tennessee State University