Opinion: Why it shouldn't be named 'Blue Raider Bridge'

Dec 17, 2018 at 01:00 pm by Michelle Willard

MTSU's Blue Raider from 1961

As most of our readers know, I believe we should name the Bridge Over Broad (a.k.a., BOB, Bridgey McBridgeface) after one of the many women who has made a positive impact on our fair city, there are others who think the bridge should be named for a veteran or MTSU's sports team, The Blue Raiders.

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.

Michelle Willard is a freelance journalist who fills her days with social media marketing, politics, true crime, and taking complaints. You can complain to her on Twitter @MichWillard or by email michelle(at)murfreesborovoice.com.

Sections: Voices