School named after KKK leader asked to change its name

September 12, 2013
Nathan Bedford Forrest (nps.gov)
Nathan Bedford Forrest (nps.gov)

(Update: new details)

In the you-can’t-make-up-this-stuff category: A petition on change.org with some 75,000 signatures is asking a Florida school district to change the name of a high school that is named after Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate  general and the first  “grand wizard” of the Ku Klux Klan.

And, according to Marsha Oliver, chief of communications for the Duval County School District, it doesn’t matter how many people sign the petition because the process for changing a school’s name is community-based and the ultimate decision resides with the school board.

The school board was asked by the School Advisory Council in April 2007 to change the name but the panel voted 5-2 against it. The board’s membership has changed since then.

The school was named after Forrest when it opened with white students only in 1959, a name suggestion that came from an organization called the Daughters of the Confederacy. Now, more than half of the school’s students are African American.

(It should be noted that there is another Nathan Bedford Forrest High School in the United States, this one in Chapel Hill, Tenn., where Forrest was born.

The change.org petition was initiated by a man named Omotayo Richmond, who wrote the following to explain his action:

I moved to Jacksonville from Long Island 12 years ago. Since then, I’ve put down roots here. I’ve helped raise a beautiful daughter here. This place is my home now, and the people who live here deserve better than a high school named for the first Grand Wizard of the KKK.

 

That’s right, Jacksonville is home to Nathan Bedford Forrest High School, named in honor of a Confederate general who infamously slaughtered Black Union soldiers who’d already surrendered and who was a founding member of the original Ku Klux Klan. The school got its name in 1959, when white civic leaders wanted to protest a court decision that called for integrating public schools.

 

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.

 

Five years ago, the school board voted 5-2 to keep the name. But a lot has changed in five years. All five members who voted for Nathan Bedford Forrest have been replaced. There’s a new school superintendent who publicly stated that he would support a push from our community to change the name. Now is the time to right a historical wrong. African American Jacksonville students shouldn’t have to attend a high school named for someone who slaughtered and terrorized their ancestors one more school year.

 

In the end, I want my child to be able to go anywhere in Jacksonville and be proud of where she is. That can’t happen with Nathan Bedford Forrest High School. Please support changing the name today.

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss | September 12, 2013