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Fla. HS to Drop Name of Former Confederate General, KKK Grand Wizard

By Albert Lin

Nathan B. ForrestA Florida school board on Monday voted unanimously (7-0) to change the name of a Jacksonville high school that honors former Confederate General and Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard Nathan B. Forrest. Perhaps the only question is why it took so long at a 1,300-student school that is 61.6 percent Black; the school board struck down a previous attempt to change the name in 2007, voting 5-2 against.

“We recognize that we cannot and are not seeking to erase history,” said board member Constance Hall. “For too long and too many, this name has represented the opposite of unity, respect, and equality.”

We need to make today about honoring the future, which is our children,” said Jason Fischer, another board member.

Jacksonville resident Omotayo Richmond started a petition on Change.org titled “Duval Public Schools: No More KKK High School” that garnered more than 160,000 signatures. Richmond wrote: “I don’t want my daughter, or any student, going to a school named under those circumstances. This is a bad look for Florida—with so much racial division in our state, renaming Forrest High would be a step toward healing.”

Nathan B. Forrest High SchoolBefore the vote, the district surveyed several groups of stakeholders (students, faculty, alumni, community, etc.) and the results were surprisingly divided. Sixty-four percent of students wanted to change the name of the school, while 94 percent of alumni wanted to keep it. Seventy-five percent of Parent-Teacher Association members wanted to change the name, while the same percentage of community members and 52 percent of faculty wanted to keep it.

Duval County Public Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said that the same groups will be polled the rest of the week on one of two names—West Side High or Firestone High—with the winner presented to the board on Jan. 7. The change will go into effect for the 2014–2015 school years. Students will also be asked if they want to keep the school mascot, the Rebel.

“It is clear that the Nathan B. Forrest name represents disparate views that have led to a cloud of divisiveness that we have had an opportunity to address and remove today,” Vitti said. “I am convinced that my recommendation and the board’s decision will move Jacksonville and the school district forward and allow us to focus on what matters most—student achievement.”

The school has been named after Forrest since its opening in 1959. Forrest was a plantation owner, a slave trader and a Confederate lieutenant general whose troops were involved in the massacre of black Union soldiers at the Battle of Fort Pillow in Tennessee. He was also elected the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, which was formed shortly after the Civil War.

Other landmarks honoring Forrest, including a bust in Selma, Ala., a statue in Memphis, Tenn., (located in what used to be called Nathan Bedford Forrest Park), a statue in Nashville, Tenn., and a 2011 proposal for a Mississippi license plate, have also met with resistance.

A grades 6–12 school in Chapel Hill, Tenn., where Forrest was born, is still named after him.

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9 Comments

  • Next up – rename all buildings/roads/bridges named after the late Senator and grand wizard Robert Byrd

  • While it is embarrassing that it took so long for the wrong to be righted, I am pleased that my community is now moving forward with the name change. This is a huge victory for the progressive community in Jacksonville, but there is still a long way to go. There are so many who hold deep-seated racist attitudes and beliefs in this community that the re-naming of the school is just more step in a long journey. (Google Christmas Day “melee” story – River City Market Place; more disturbing than the incident itself are the horrible racist comments posted on local news websites.)

    It is important, I think, to note that the original name of the school was to be Valhalla High until the Daughters of the Confederacy launched a campaign to name it after Forrest, in response to coming desegregation. So for me the issue is as much about righting the wrong of how the school was named and the spirit in which it was named as it is about the actual name chosen. Well done, students, PTA and Duval County School Board. Well done!

  • Very, very good. Name it after someone that liked or like all people.

  • Having schools named after so called “Confederate Generals” is racist, stupid and offensive It’s also unpatriotic. These “Confederates” were traitors. They were in favor of destroying our United States.

    Do we name any schools, or anything else after Benedict Arnold?

    • Luke Visconti

      This particular general was a war criminal. He executed hundreds of prisoners of war (because they were Black), he was a horrible man and was chosen to be the namesake of this school to terrorize the Black citizens of Jacksonville. He’s not even from Florida—he was a slave trader from Tennessee before the war. The fact it took this long to correct this abuse speaks volumes about Jacksonville today. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

      • Duval County School Board will be voting on the new name tonight: Westside High School. This was the name preferred by stakeholders (students, faculty, parents/PTA and neighborhood residents surveyed). If approved, the name will go into effect for the 2014/2015 school year. The district no longer names schools for people.

        In addition to Robert E. Lee High School, Jacksonville is also home to J.E.B. Stuart and Jefferson Davis Middle schools. But to be fair, we also have schools named for Duncan Fletcher, Douglas Anderson, A. Philip Randolph and Sallye B. Mathis. Jacksonville may still be living in the shadows, but many of here are working to bring her into the light. Next up: an HRO for the city.

  • Before you get too excited about General Nathan Bedford Forrest. You might want to check some of his speeches after the war. Actually he sounds like a Kennedy liberal on the race issue. Even advocated bringing more blacks into the country as free-men. His speeches would not make white separatists happy. Also never confuse the ruling class white supremacist’s with the working-class white separatists. To do so is a grave error.

    • Luke Visconti

      General Forrest isn’t known for his evolved thinking in his old age. He’s known for the massacre at Fort Pillow and being elected Grand Wizard of the KKK. The people of Jacksonville didn’t name the school after him in 1959 for his evolved thinking, the Daughters of the Confederacy suggested his name and the city leaders approved it—clearly in a move to terrorize the Black citizens among them. There is also a Robert E. Lee High School in Jacksonville. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

  • I have never understood the concept of naming public buildings, roads and the like after anyone. While I’m sure there are many that have upheld the honor over time and until after their death, all too often there is something controversial about the person. Living in the northeast it is difficult to avoid driving on, past or through something named after a Kennedy. I take particular offense at anything named after Ted as I’m sure the Kopechne’s do. Let’s let the actions speak for themselves when considering the legacy of an individual, particularly politicians, and dispense with the need to name public properties in their honor.

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