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why is mtsu called the blue raiders?

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Answer # 1 #

The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders are the men's and women's athletic teams at Middle Tennessee State University, in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. MT athletic teams participate in NCAA Division I (Bowl Subdivision in football) in Conference USA. MT competed in the Ohio Valley Conference until 2000, and the Sun Belt Conference until 2013.

The nickname 'Blue Raiders' was coined by an MTSU football player, Charles Sarver, in 1934 Daily News Journal contest. No official nickname existed prior to 1934, when teams were called "Normalites," "Teachers," and "Pedagogues".

The university's athletic teams simply refer to the school as "Middle Tennessee" or "MT", abandoning the words "State University".

A member of Conference USA, Middle Tennessee sponsors teams in eight men's and nine women's NCAA sanctioned sports.

The baseball team has won 16 conference titles and for the last 37 seasons they had been coached by two men. The last 23 of those years Steve Peterson has been at the helm. Middle Tennessee has made 13 NCAA Tournament appearances. Their best turnout was in 1982 when the Blue Raiders fell one game short of making the College World Series in Omaha, Neb. In 2009, Rawley Bishop, Nathan Hines, and Bryce Brentz all broke several team and league records to lead the Blue Raiders to the 2009 Sun Belt Conference regular season and tournament titles. They also set a school record with 44 wins, going 44–18 on the season. The Blue Raiders were chosen for the Louisville Regional. They won their first game against in-state rival Vanderbilt 5–4, but lost to host Louisville in their second game 3–2 and were eliminated by Vanderbilt 6–0 in game three. In 2010, outfielder Bryce Brentz was selected in the supplemental first round with the 36th overall pick by the Boston Red Sox, becoming the second highest Blue Raider picked in the MLB First-Year Player Draft. The highest was pitcher Dewon Brazelton who was selected third overall by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 2001 MLB First-Year Player Draft. In the summer of 2012, Steve Peterson decided to retire. Peterson and John Stanford, the previous coach before him, had been the only two coaches in the past 38 years. Peterson retires with an all-time career record of 791–637–3. Peterson did a lot more for the program than just win ballgames. He helped carry on annual events such as the yearly Fish Fry that is held every October and was started by Coach John Stanford. Also, he carried on the tradition of the Groundhog Day Luncheon that takes place every February. Peterson also was the prime leader in fundraising for the renovations that took place to Reese Smith Jr. Field. In addition to fundraising enough money for increased seating at Reese Smith Jr. Field, Peterson raised enough money for a clubhouse. The Stephen B. Smith clubhouse was built in 1998 and has served as the team's locker room for the past 14 seasons.

The men's basketball program has had staggered history. 1975 saw Middle Tennessee and head coach Jimmy Earle make their first NCAA Tournament. The team was selected for the Mideast Regional, but fell in the first round to Oregon State 78–67. After one more first round bow out, the Raiders, then coached by Stan Simpson, won their first NCAA Tournament game as an 11-seed, the highest seeding the school has received in the tournament. In the historic Memorial Gymnasium in Nashville, Tenn., Middle Tennessee beat Kentucky 50–44 in the Mideast Regional. The Raiders would lose to Louisville in the second round, who won the regional title that year and advanced to the Final Four.

Then 1985 saw Middle Tennessee embark on a string of five consecutive seasons with a post-season berth, either in the NCAA Tournament or the National Invitation Tournament. Their best post-season run was in the 1988 NIT. In the first round coach Bruce Stewart's Raiders hosted in-state rival Tennessee and beat the Volunteers 85–80 in front of a full-house in the Murphy Center. Four nights later Middle Tennessee hosted another Southeastern Conference foe Georgia. Ty Baynham and Randy Henry led Middle Tennessee to another victory, this time 69–59. After beating the Bulldogs, the Blue Raiders hosted Boston College for the right to go to Madison Square Garden and the NIT Semifinals. However Murphy's Magic ran out, and the Eagles defeated Middle Tennessee 78–69. The following season the Blue Raiders once again made the NCAA Tournament. Earning a 13-seed, the Raiders defeated the Florida State Seminoles 97–83. Middle Tennessee was down by 17 (67–50) with 16 minutes left in the game. Freshman Mike Buck put the team on his shoulders at that point, and with a career high 26 points, led the Raiders on a 47–16 run to end the game and advance the team to the round of 32. Middle Tennessee's dream season would end in the second round at the hands of the Virginia Cavaliers with a 104–88 loss. After Stewart was let go amid NCAA rules violations after the 1990–91 season, the Blue Raiders enjoyed only modest success until the 2011–12 season.

Coach Kermit Davis broke the all-time coaching wins record, previously held by Earle, with a 68–56 win over Ole Miss on December 21. The win was especially sweet for Davis. Not only is he now the winningest coach in Blue Raiders history, but he also graduated from the Rebels' biggest rival, Mississippi State. On January 26, Middle Tennessee beat Troy 71–58 to earn their 20th win of the season, the first time the school had reached that mark since the 1990–91 season. And on February 18 the Blue Raiders defeated Florida Atlantic to earn their 24th win and break the school's single season wins record. The team finished the regular season 25–5 overall and 14–2 in the Sun Belt Conference, earning them their first ever outright championship of the league.

On March 18, 2016, the 15th seeded Blue Raiders defeated 2nd seeded Michigan State in the opening round of the Midwest Region of the 2016 NCAA men's tournament, becoming the eighth #15 seed to win a game in the history of the tournament. The Blue Raiders lost in the second round to 10th seed Syracuse on March 20.

The women's basketball team, currently coached by Rick Insell, has appeared several times in the NCAA and WNIT basketball tournaments, dating back to the 1970s. The Blue Raiders won the Sun Belt Conference championship in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2012, receiving the conference's automatic berth in the NCAA women's tournament. In 2008, the team lost in the Sun Belt Championship game, and received a bid to play in the WNIT. The MTSU Women's team has been home to the NCAA's leading scorer for two recent consecutive seasons: Amber Holt in 2008, and Alysha Clark in 2009.

The football team has won 12 conference titles, the most recent being in 2006. That year, the Blue Raiders won their second Sun Belt Conference championship and received a bid to play in the Motor City Bowl in Detroit, Mich., the program's first major FBS (Formerly Division I-A) bowl game. In 2009 the team became the first Sun Belt Conference team to reach 10 wins in a single season. The Raiders finished the season 10–3 with their first bowl win over Southern Mississippi in the New Orleans Bowl. Middle Tennessee has had 15 head coaches including Johnny "Red" Floyd, the man who the football stadium is named after. The Blue Raiders are currently led by Rick Stockstill.

The men's golf team has won 19 conference championships:

They won the NCAA Division II Championship in 1965 while Gary Head (1963) and Larry Gilbert (1965) won individual national titles.

The 2008 team advanced to the NCAA tournament final round (16 teams) and finished ranked 15th in the nation.

The track program has a storied history including 43 conference titles, 18 NCAA top-25 finishes and 80 All-American awards. The program has been led since 1965 by legendary coach Dean Hayes.

The women's volleyball program - which plays its games in Alumni Memorial Gym - has developed into a national power with Sun Belt Conference championships in 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010; and NCAA tournament bids in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011. In 2006 the Blue Raiders advanced to the NCAA tournament second round and followed that up in 2007 with a "sweet 16" appearance to conclude the best season in team history.

The Blue Raiders hosted the 2013 Conference USA Volleyball Championship at Alumni Memorial Gym, winning the bid to host in Middle Tennessee's first year in C-USA.

MT fields teams in club sports such as rugby union, ice hockey, men's soccer, and inline hockey. These "club sports" are not sanctioned by the university, though each team does receive funding as a student organization. They are also authorized to use school logos, wordmarks, and identities. These teams do not compete at the NCAA level, though they do compete against other colleges and universities within unofficial intercollegiate organizations.

MT also has an equestrian team which competes in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association in both huntseat and western division. Though a club team, the members have won several individual national championships and were as a team the 2003 National Western Reserve Champions.

Additionally, the MTSU Wrestling club team has become a nationally successful program, placing within the top 8 of the National Collegiate Wrestling Association (NCWA) in 2014 (6th), 2015 (2nd), and 2016 (8th).

MT has won two NCAA national championships in team sports: golf (1965) and men's tennis doubles (2007). However, seven individuals have won national championships. All were in golf or track. The most recent of these came in 2003 when sprinter Marty Scales captured the NCAA Men's 100 meter sprint title.

The university recognizes two songs as its official songs, both simply titled "Alma Mater" and "Fight Song". Several other songs are associated with the athletic department, such as the "Tennessee Waltz", which is played at the end of any athletic event by the Band of Blue or pep band.

In 1912, student William J. McConnell wrote the first school song titled, "Hail, M.T.N!" The music is the 19th-century Russian national anthem, God Save the Tsar!, composed by Alexei Lvov. When the normal school became Middle Tennessee State Teacher's College, the abbreviations "M.T.N." were substituted with "S.T.C."

During the golden anniversary in 1961, Charles Douglas Williams, graduate in 1953, wrote "Alma Mater", an original composition musically and lyrically. The state college adopted the new piece as its alma mater. The song is played before every football game and sung during commencement exercises.

The original fight song of MTSU is "Blue Raiders Ride!" The march, written by Paul Yoder, opens with a traditional drum roll and a trumpet fanfare that closely resembles Dixie, which was played as a fight sung up until then, tying in the Confederate symbolism of the school's mascot, the Raider. The march is 148 bpm in the key of B-flat.

On September 10, 2011, the day before the centennial of MTSU, the Blue Raiders hosted the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets for the largest crowd to fill Johnny "Red" Floyd Stadium. As part of the official Centennial Celebration, the Band of Blue performed Blue Raiders Ride!, an arrangement of Happy Birthday, and The Stars and Stripes Forever. Because of the positive crowd response, Blue Raiders Ride! became part of the regular pre-game performance.

A new fight song was adopted in 1993, featuring a cheer. The tune and melody are similar to that of On, On, U of K.

The university's main athletics building, the Charles M. Murphy Center, lies on the northwest corner of MTSU's campus. Inside the Murphy Center is Monte Hale basketball arena, which seats 11,520. The Murphy Center also features athletic offices, classrooms, axillary gyms, and an indoor track.

Johnny "Red" Floyd Stadium, named after a former MTSU football coach, lies adjacent to the Murphy Center. The stadium features 31,788 seats and a Sportexe PowerBlade playing surface, installed in 2006.

MTSU also features many smaller stadiums for various other sports. MTSU's baseball stadium, Reese Smith Jr. Field, was recently renovated in 2008. It holds 3,000 seats. The MTSU softball stadium, located next to the Recreation Center, was renovated in 2006. The stadium seats over 1,000 fans. The Dean Hayes Track and Soccer Field, named for the very successful former MTSU track coach, lies on the northern edge of campus. Seating capacity is 1,500.

Because of MTSU's central location in the state, the athletic facilities at MTSU are the site of many Tennessee state high school championship games and matches.

MTSU's original mascot was Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate General and early leader in the Ku Klux Klan. Because of Forrest's ties to the Ku Klux Klan, the mascot was later changed to a blue-colored scent hound dog named "Ole Blue" in the 1970s.

MTSU's current mascot is a blue winged horse named "Lightning," adopted as the mascot in 1998, when the athletics department updated its image in preparation for the 1999 upgrade to Division I-A football and subsequent transfer to the Sun Belt Conference. "Lightning" symbolizes the university's aerospace and horse science programs and the region's heritage in the walking horse industry.

MTSU's main rival in all sports is against WKU (Western Kentucky Hilltoppers) in the aptly named "100 Miles of Hate". The Blue Raiders also have a growing rivalry with the University of Alabama-Birmingham. Historically, the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles have been a rival in all sports, with the most notable meeting being in 1990; when a basketball game between the two schools turned into a bench clearing brawl.

MTSU operates the "Blue Raider Sports Network", a radio network syndicating its sporting events to several stations across the area. Also, some of the football games are recorded onto video by students from the College of Mass Communications and are aired on the student run TV station, MTTV Channel 10. Occasionally, football games will be broadcast on ESPN Plus, and can either be seen locally or on ESPN's pay-per-view "Gameplan" service. The Blue Raiders can also be seen occasionally on ESPN2.

MTSU men's basketball games can be heard on 1450 AM WGNS, and 89.5 FM WMOT.

MTSU women's basketball, plus occasional baseball and softball games, can be heard on 88.3 FM WMTS-FM.

Cumulus Media's ESPN 106.7 The Fan WNFN in Nashville became the flagship station for MTSU football in August 2006. The football games also remain on WMOT.

MTSU also provides live audio and video broadcasts of women's soccer through their website www.GoBlueRaiders.com, with David Powell providing commentary since the 2006 season.

[4]
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Venkatesh Velraj
SALES SUPERVISOR MALT LIQUORS
Answer # 2 #

Issues raised during the Rutherford County Commission meeting Thursday, Dec. 14 bring to bear whether the university's mascot has ties to the Civil War.

(I'm not even going to broach the question as to whether the county should have any say in what the bridge should be named. Seems the city of Murfreesboro's wishes should carry more weight.)

There is a fairly solid argument that we should possibly think about MTSU's mascot in a different way.

According to MTSU's archives, the name came about in 1934 after The Daily News Journal ran a contest to name Middle Tennessee Normal School's athletic teams. The winning entry was from Charles Sarver, who suggested the team be named the Blue Raiders after his favorite team the Colgate Red Raiders.

On the surface, there isn't anything wrong with a Blue Raider, especially because it has been rebranded with Lightning, the weird horse.

But before Lightning, before the UT-dog ripoff, MTSU's mascot was a Confederate soldier.

A clipping from the second page of the 1956 Midlander, MTSU's student yearbook.

Let's look at how the Blue Raider was transformed in the intervening years from the mid-1930s to the early 1980s, you'll see it was used as yet another way to preserve the imagery of the Old South.

Starting in 1938 with President Q. M. Smith and public relations director Gene Sloa, the Blue Raider morphed into Nathan Bedford Forrest using all the trappings of the Confederacy. The symbols of the Confederacy oozed over from solely the athletics mascot to the establishment of an institutional identity.

Over the years, the meaning of the "Blue Raider" was changed to represent the Confederate Army and the oppression of a full class of citizens. (Before you argue states rights, the right they were fighting over was the right to own another person.)

A look at the 1956 Midlander finds pages covered with Confederate flags and cartoon soldiers.

The Confederate take over of an integrated state university continued until the late 1970s and further with branding images on lingering products like cups.

As a native Murfreesboroan (yes, there are a few of us still around), I remember attending an MTSU basketball game as a child in the 1980s and drinking cola from a cup adorned with an image of a Confederate soldier on a horse. My friend's mom took it home and it remained in the home until the late 1990s at least.

When you couple this with the fact there are three monument and plaques on the Courthouse Square dedicated to Nathan Bedford Forrest or Confederate Soldiers, you have to wonder what kind of message our community is trying to send to others.

The state of Tennessee has made it nearly impossible to remove the exisiting Confederate monuments.

Let's not erect a new one in the middle of town.

[4]
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Embeth Valenzuela
Nursing Management
Answer # 3 #

Issues raised during the Rutherford County Commission meeting Thursday, Dec. 14 bring to bear whether the university's mascot has ties to the Civil War.

(I'm not even going to broach the question as to whether the county should have any say in what the bridge should be named. Seems the city of Murfreesboro's wishes should carry more weight.)

There is a fairly solid argument that we should possibly think about MTSU's mascot in a different way.

According to MTSU's archives, the name came about in 1934 after The Daily News Journal ran a contest to name Middle Tennessee Normal School's athletic teams. The winning entry was from Charles Sarver, who suggested the team be named the Blue Raiders after his favorite team the Colgate Red Raiders.

On the surface, there isn't anything wrong with a Blue Raider, especially because it has been rebranded with Lightning, the weird horse.

But before Lightning, before the UT-dog ripoff, MTSU's mascot was a Confederate soldier.

A clipping from the second page of the 1956 Midlander, MTSU's student yearbook.

Let's look at how the Blue Raider was transformed in the intervening years from the mid-1930s to the early 1980s, you'll see it was used as yet another way to preserve the imagery of the Old South.

Starting in 1938 with President Q. M. Smith and public relations director Gene Sloa, the Blue Raider morphed into Nathan Bedford Forrest using all the trappings of the Confederacy. The symbols of the Confederacy oozed over from solely the athletics mascot to the establishment of an institutional identity.

Over the years, the meaning of the "Blue Raider" was changed to represent the Confederate Army and the oppression of a full class of citizens. (Before you argue states rights, the right they were fighting over was the right to own another person.)

A look at the 1956 Midlander finds pages covered with Confederate flags and cartoon soldiers.

The Confederate take over of an integrated state university continued until the late 1970s and further with branding images on lingering products like cups.

As a native Murfreesboroan (yes, there are a few of us still around), I remember attending an MTSU basketball game as a child in the 1980s and drinking cola from a cup adorned with an image of a Confederate soldier on a horse. My friend's mom took it home and it remained in the home until the late 1990s at least.

When you couple this with the fact there are three monument and plaques on the Courthouse Square dedicated to Nathan Bedford Forrest or Confederate Soldiers, you have to wonder what kind of message our community is trying to send to others.

[3]
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Lauri Prakash
FILLER SHREDDER HELPER
Answer # 4 #

The nickname's origin goes back to a 1934 newspaper contest. An MTSU football player, Charles Sarver, won $5 from Murfreesboro's The Daily News Journal with his winning entry "Blue Raiders", which he later admitted borrowing from Colgate University, whose teams were known as "Red Raiders" at the time.

[3]
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Deric Neuman
Geoff
Answer # 5 #

The Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders athletic program is a member of the NCAA FBS Conference USA, with the football team playing their home games at Johnny "Red" Floyd Stadium in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. The Blue Raiders are currently coached by Rick Stockstill.

The nickname of the Middle Tennessee male athletic teams is the Blue Raiders. Female teams are known as the Lady Raiders. The nickname's origin goes back to a 1934 newspaper contest. An MTSU football player, Charles Sarver, won $5 from Murfreesboro's The Daily News Journal with his winning entry "Blue Raiders", which he later admitted borrowing from Colgate University, whose teams were known as "Red Raiders" at the time. No official nickname existed prior to 1934, when teams were called "Normalites", "Teachers", and "Pedagogues".

MTSU is represented by the colors white and royal blue, described as PMS 301 by the university.

Lightning is the mascot of both the Middle Tennessee men and women's sports teams.

MTSU appeared twice in the Tangerine Bowl (now the Capital One Bowl). The first game, played January 1, 1960, against Presbyterian College, resulted in a 21-12 win. The second game, against Lamar University on December 29, 1961, was a 21-14 loss.

The Blue Raiders were invited to the Motor City Bowl in 2006 after a shared conference title with Troy University. Troy had won the conference with a tie-breaker, but MTSU was invited due to the Big Ten having two teams in the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) and thus being unable to fulfill their bowl contract for the Motor City Bowl. MTSU played Central Michigan University in the game and were defeated 31-14.

MTSU finished the 2009 regular season with a 9-3 record and was invited to play in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl on December 20, 2009. The team played against the University of Southern Mississippi, defeating them 42-32. This was MTSU's second bowl game and first bowl win since joining the Division I FBS. Quarterback Dwight Dasher was named as the game's MVP after rushing and passing for two touchdowns each.

MTSU was defeated in the 2011 GoDaddy.com Bowl in Mobile, Alabama by the Miami University RedHawks.

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Answer # 6 #

Author’s Note: Since writing this article in August 2015, Elizabeth Catte has written an article on Forrest Hall for the official blog of the National Council on Public History, available here: http://publichistorycommons.org/a-confederate-on-campus/.

As of today, Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) has a Confederacy problem. Granted, a lot has changed since the 1960s. For one, MTSU no longer has a man in Confederate garb on football sidelines, nor does the MTSU band play “Dixie” as the unofficial fight song. But there is still an ominous structure with “Forrest Hall” emblazoned upon its side, named after a Confederate general and slave trader. Why does this symbol to the Confederacy exist at MTSU? Why does it persist? And why did (and does) a state university founded 46 years after the Civil War proudly associate itself with a founder of the KKK?

A few weeks ago, Matt Follett wrote a great piece for this very blog entitled “Confederate Iconography and Southern College Football.” In it, Matt connected Confederate imagery to sport through college football games in the South, primarily those at Ole Miss. In brief, Matt argued that administrative policies do not deter the display of Confederate flags at college sporting events or prevent “southerners from rallying and advocating for Confederate iconography.” In his words, “It appears changing the proverbial ‘hearts and minds’ of defiant southerners is a lost cause.” I like his use of the phrase “lost cause” here.

This post is, first, a follow-up on Matt’s by analyzing the troubling—and ongoing—connections to the Confederacy of my current university, MTSU. In the late-1960s and 1970s, MTSU successfully purged its brutally racist public image at sporting events, but remnants of MTSU’s racist “heritage” are still scattered throughout campus. By and large though, MTSU’s public image today is not significantly different from any other mid-sized public university with a mediocre football team…except for the fact that Nathan Bedford Forrest (one of the founders of the KKK) still has a symbolic presence on our campus.

Second, this post is an effort to bring this historical context to a current (and ongoing) MTSU debate. Like many universities, MTSU has an ROTC program; unlike most universities, our ROTC program is based in a building named after Nathan Bedford Forrest, a notorious Confederate general with no connection to the university whatsoever. As of this writing, current MTSU President Sidney McPhee is supposedly holding a series of meetings to “revisit” the name of Forrest Hall, as announced via public statement on 24 June, although there seems to be no administrative movement as of right now. However, there is absolutely student movement. A protest is scheduled for this Thursday.

To be fully clear, I believe the name of Forrest Hall should be changed. This post is not a call for political correctness; it is a call for awareness, justice, and to end MTSU’s ahistorical association with a founder of the KKK.

A quick background on Nathan Bedford Forrest, for those of you unfamiliar. Forrest was a lieutenant general in the CSA Army and, by all military accounts of the time, led many successful military campaigns primarily in middle Tennessee. More importantly though, he was a slave trader, war criminal, and terrorist. Before the Civil War, Forrest made a fortune trading enslaved peoples; during the war, Forrest’s men brutalized Union soldiers, most notably massacring African-American Union soldiers at Fort Pillow after they surrendered; and after the war, Forrest became a prominent leader of the first Ku Klux Klan.

Forrest defenders deny, many to this day, his role at Fort Pillow and the KKK and excuse his slave trading as a common practice in his day. But even in a best case scenario, Forrest was a violent, absolutist white supremacist, despite what the Sons of Confederate Veterans may have you believe about his changing views in his final years of life. Some argue that Forrest was a product of his times, which is of course true to a point, yet Forrest did things that very few Southern white men did at the time—made a fortune in the slave trade, massacred surrendered enemy soldiers, and led others in illegal, oppressive, and murderous action against African Americans. Forrest cannot be redeemed from this action just because he gave one half-decent speech in his dying days.

I do not intend to debate Forrest as he lived; I do intend to analyze how Forrest has been canonized at MTSU. To be absolutely clear, there is no direct connection between Forrest and MTSU. Even at the dedication of Forrest Hall, the only connection that could be made was that Forrest’s command once “rendezvoused on or near the present campus.” No matter your opinion, you must agree this is a tenuous connection.

Forrest died in 1877; MTSU opened (as Middle Tennessee State Normal School) in 1911. In 1913, a faculty committee chose the school’s official colors—blue and white—and explained these were chosen because the pair was practical, economical, and “could be purchased across the counter in any general merchandise store.” Newspapers unofficially named sports teams the “Pedagogues,” but this name was never popular on campus.

In 1934, the local newspaper asked the student body for name suggestions. The winning submission was Blue Raiders, which still stands as the university’s mascot. A common misconception today is that the name “Raider” was derived from “Forrest’s Raiders,” but the winning entrant was actually a slightly modified version of Colgate University’s “Red Raiders.” As a relevant aside,  it should be noted that “Rebels” finished just three votes behind in second place.

While “Blue Raiders” may not be directly associated with Forrest, it was certainly implied within athletics by the end of World War II. For example, when the university considered a name change in 1944, the head football coach proposed the name Forrest State College to match the “Raider” nickname.

But the name “Blue Raiders” wasn’t enough for MTSU President Quinn Smith. Upon entering his position in 1938, Smith believed that the “Raiders” needed a better symbol around which to rally school spirit. Sports mascots are symbolic usually, more representative of an idea than an individual (such as Ole Miss’s Colonel Reb), but MTSU officials chose to associate the university with very specific individuals from the past. At least one school official suggested Confederate general John Hunt Morgan, but according to another MTSU administrator, “President Smith felt a native of Middle Tennessee would be a better representative, and he ultimately decided on Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Civil War cavalryman from Chapel Hill, Tennessee.” According to alumni publications, Smith viewed Forrest with great personal admiration and believed that Forrest “represented or should represent the spirit of the team and the remainder of the college.”

At President Smith’s behest, MTSU’s publicity officers incorporated Forrest into their materials at least as early as 1945. By the mid-1950s, Forrest’s image dominated campus life, on decals, bookstore supplies, and campus newspaper Sidelines, not to mention the new ROTC building named Forrest Hall (also chosen by President Smith). Students formed a Nathan Bedford Forrest Club, and others sold “rebel flags to boost the school’s southern spirit.” Confederate battle flags were apparently everywhere on MTSU’s campus.

Most visible though was the Forrest-lookalike mascot on horseback. From 1945 to 1967, “That Blue Devil” rode along the sidelines of MTSU football games at Horace James Field while “Dixie” played in the stands. Dixie wasn’t the official fight song, but the band played it often and it was clearly the favorite of most MTSU fans.

I am certain the author of the Spring 1960 alumni newsletter chuckled to themselves when they wrote the Forrest mascot: “One cannot help thinking that ‘That Devil’ must turn over, at least once or twice, each time ‘blue’ is affixed across his symbol.”

While Confederate symbols were popular amongst the all-white student body at this time, it did not sit well with everyone. For example, the student who won the mascot contest with “Blue Raiders” in 1934 did not appreciate the new interpretation of the mascot, openly speaking on the Forrest symbolism: “One that I didn’t like was when one of the presidents and one of the public relations men decided they needed a reason for the name.” Most likely, the Forrest imagery was a tactic utilized by Smith (and others) to suppress integration efforts and the nascent Civil Rights movement on the then all-white campus.

MTSU classrooms finally integrated in 1962, with athletic integration coming three years later when the first African-American athlete debuted on the track and field team. Three more years later, in 1968, J.W. Harper became the first African-American player on MTSU’s football team, but even at this late date the football locker room and dormitories remained segregated.

While black students were first taking classes and competing for MTSU sports teams, the university furthered its attachment to Nathan Bedford Forrest. In 1967, MTSU built a new student center, and on the outside of that building was placed a large seal of the university’s official mascot–Nathan Bedford Forrest on horseback. This was not received well  by much of the student body, especially the small but growing African-American population, as evidenced by a spontaneous student tradition of casually pelting the seal with rocks when walking past.

During the next year, with rights movements seeing hard-fought success nationwide, the student body at MTSU spoke up. Sylvester Brooks, an African-American MTSU student, wrote an article appearing in the campus newspaper asserting that Forrest symbols were offensive—and oppressive—to MTSU’s African-American students. A large number of responses sympathetic to Brooks’ points poured into the newspaper, and a student-led campaign launched aspiring to remove the Forrest and Confederate symbols at MTSU.

Further revealing the tension was an altercation between an African-American MTSU basketball player and the Forrest mascot when the player punched or shoved the mascot after the mascot patted him on the back. Supposedly, the Forrest mascot was ordered to stay away from the court, and sometimes the arena altogether, for MTSU basketball games. The student government deadlocked on the issue initially, but eventually passed a resolution to urge the university to adopt a new “symbol and mascot similar to other schools.”

In response, MTSU President Smith’s successor, M.G. Scarlett, formed a committee to decide the next mascot for sporting events. This committee decided to select a new mascot that “would not recall the elements of the Civil War and be more palatable to the minorities on campus and in the community.” The committee chose to do away with the Confederate Blue Raider for a more neutral, somewhat cartoonish cavalry uniform. A few different dogs were also used as game day mascots for a while. The Forrest mascot was never seen again, but was not officially replaced until a 1976 MTSU football game with the debut of “a more modern figure”–a Tennessee walking horse named Wink’s Choice. A horse mascot was not long for football games however; Wink’s Choice  had a hard time walking on the track surrounding the field, so the equine mascot was quietly discarded as well.

But of course, this was not the end of MTSU’s attachment to white supremacy. On the night of 11 Dec. 1970 and during this mascot transition, white MTSU students burned a cross on campus. About sixty black students immediately marched to President Scarlett’s home and demanded action. A week later, Scarlett addressed the campus and demanded an end to all racism at MTSU. Scarlett would go on to “persuade” university fraternities from wearing and displaying Confederate flags at football games and the marching band from playing “Dixie.” The Music Department penned a new MTSU song, although they were not pleased with “altering a traditional aspect of MTSU’s cultural heritage” (even though the song was hardly an MTSU tradition). Throughout the 1970s, President Scarlett slowly replaced Forrest imagery with more neutral symbols, such as when, in 1978, the university seal was officially changed from Forrest on horseback to MTSU call letters. MTSU ordered yet another sports mascot—some type of strange-looking swashbuckler that some even described as a superhero.

And thus, a burning cross and the subsequent outrage precipitated the death of the MTSU’s open attachment to Confederate symbolism. To be clear though, Scarlett wasn’t exactly a champion of civil rights; he was more a champion of good publicity. Scarlett would in coming years, for example, suppress media coverage of student protests and arrests, hoping to project an image of MTSU as calm, safe campus during a time when many college campuses experienced highly publicized protests.

By the mid-1980s, there were three symbols of Forrest left on campus: athletic department stationary, the university seal on the student center, and the Forrest Hall ROTC building. Stationary was phased out over time; the seal was unilaterally taken down by another MTSU President in 1989 and donated to Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park; but Forrest Hall persists. In 2006, a student movement emerged aspiring to change the name, and the student government agreed–only to reverse its decision a few days later.

The spontaneous creation of MTSU’s Nathan Bedford Forrest iconography reveals just how malleable symbols can be, including those of sporting mascots. The Blue Raiders mascot had nothing to do with Nathan Bedford Forrest in 1933; it has nothing to do with Forrest now. But for about 25 years in-between, one MTSU President molded MTSU into a haven for Confederate mythology. Since the late-1980s (at least), a small-but-vocal cadre makes themselves heard whenever MTSU’s Forrest “traditions” are threatened, most often using phrases such as heritage

But, as seen here, MTSU’s connections to Forrest are tenuous at best and bear no validity. If the connection to Forrest is valid, then why doesn’t MTSU mention Forrest a single time in official histories? Why did MTSU quickly sever ties with Confederate symbolism during the late-1960s? Why does the most recent published history of MTSU refer to the mid-century attachment to Forrest as a “passing fad”?

Almost entirely because of student protest and public outcry, MTSU Presidents consistently re-evaluate the appropriateness of Forrest connections around campus. More often than not since 1970, they conclude that Forrest is bad for business and that it projects an image of white supremacy (and they are correct in that conclusion). Further, student government has proven to be an utter failure at least twice now in successfully removing a Confederate tradition foisted upon them by a President Smith seventy years ago. It is now up to President McPhee to tacitly accept a false tradition foisted upon us by Smith or to be an agent of positive change like President Scarlett was in the 1970s.

As I professed at the beginning of this post, I admit that I cannot separate myself from this story. I am truly ashamed to work at a place where I can see “Forrest” out of my office window. I’m not the only one, as Phil Oliver (Philosophy professor) publicly stated: “I’m embarrassed every time I teach there.”

When MTSU built its ROTC building in 1954, President Smith named it Forrest Hall in honor of Nathan Bedford Forrest’s reputation as an “intrepid Confederate cavalry leader who won fame with his brilliant raids.” Maybe that was Forrest’s reputation in 1954, but in 2015 Forrest’s reputation is one of hate, racism, and violence. We do not want or need that at MTSU. I urge students, staff, faculty, and anyone who cares about MTSU to finally rid the university of this last blatant symbol of the Confederacy on campus.

Note: I would like to thank the staff of the Albert Gore Research Center at MTSU for their generous assistance in researching this article.

Josh Howard is a PhD Candidate in the Public History Program at Middle Tennessee State University. His research interests include sports history, Appalachia, and public history. His ongoing dissertation research explores the use of informal data collection techniques in museum visitor studies. Most recently, he completed a web exhibit and archive based on the Wendell Smith Papers for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. He is also the social media editor for this blog. Get in touch with Josh at Joshua.Howard@mtsu.edu or on Twitter via @jhowardhistory.

Middle Tennessee State College Dedication, 25 Mar. 1958.

“The Mid-Stater Alumni Bulletin,” MTS College, Vol. 1, No. 2, Spring 1960.

 Lisa Pruitt, Holly Barnett, and Nancy Morgan, editors, Middle Tennessee State University (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2001), 68.

“The Mid-Stater Alumni Bulletin,” MTSU, Fall 1984, 9.

 “The Mid-Stater Alumni Bulletin,” MTS College, Vol. 1, No. 2, Spring 1960.

“Everything but Confederate Money,” 1968, Albert Gore Research Center.

The Mid-Stater Alumni Bulletin, MTS College, Vol. 1, No. 2, Spring 1960.

Matt Bolch, “Raider name evolved, but not without controversy,” Sidelines, undated .

Sidelines, 17 Mar. 2008.

Brooks interview. Transcript, Sylvester Brooks Oral History Interview, 30 Sep. 2000, by Erin Toomey, 26, Albert Gore Research Center.

Idem.

“The Mid-Stater Alumni Bulletin,” Fall 1984, 9.

MTSU Diamond Anniversary, 7 Sep. 1976.

“The Mid-Stater Alumni Bulletin,” Fall 1976, 17.

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