Now That The Forrest Bust Has Been Removed, What Confederate Symbols Might Be Next?

Aug 4, 2021

MTSU student Toriana Williams stands in front of a campus building named after Nathan Bedford Forrest.
Credit Paige Pfleger | WPLN News

In 2018, students and officials at Middle Tennessee State University pushed for a building known as Forrest Hall to be renamed. When it went up for a vote with the Tennessee Historical Commission, they didn’t get approval.

Three years later, on a rainy July day, student Toriana Williams stood in front of Forrest Hall and wondered what the removal of Nathan Bedford Forrest’s bust from the Tennessee State Capitol could mean for MTSU.

“I think it’s confusing that they would remove the bust and not have removed or renamed Forrest Hall,” Williams says. “I’m not sure what changed for them. It does make me excited for their possible support in this situation.”

Only four petitions have made it through the process laid out in a state law called the Heritage Protection Act, including the Forrest bust. Those legal hoops put in place by the law can have a chilling effect.

But the removal of the Forrest bust might provide a boost to Metro Nashville. It is considering submitting applications to remove a Confederate statue and to change the name of a park, but it hasn’t yet.

And it could be an encouraging sign for those who want to remove a Confederate flag from the Williamson County seal, which the Historical Commission will vote on in October.

MTSU didn’t appeal the commission’s decision in 2018, in part because of how expensive and arduous the process would be. But the school’s leader says his feeling about it hasn’t changed.

“I continue to believe that renaming Forrest Hall is the right thing to do,” President Sidney McPhee wrote in an emailed statement. “We felt we made a very compelling argument to the Tennessee Historical Commission in 2018 on why changing the name was in the best interest of the university, so we were disappointed that our request failed to receive approval from two-thirds of the commission as required by law.”

Meanwhile, Williams has written an open letter in the student newspaper calling for the governor, the speaker of the state Senate and the Historical Commission to reexamine the issue.

“We applaud Gov. Lee’s desire to remove the bust of Forrest in the state capitol,” she wrote. “We hope he will support our effort to remove the Forrest name at MTSU.”