Your short article about this petition couldn’t begin to explain the controversy surrounding the naming of this school in the fall of 1959. The school opened without a name and we were packed in like sardines from 7th through 12th grades. I and my brother were in the 7th and 8th grade and we were so excited to learn that we students were going to choose the name of the school, the colors, and the football team’s name. A vigorous campaign ensued with proposed names being put up on the board and lively discussions taking place. I remember one proposed name was “Oak Lawn” and the team could be the “Acorns.” That name died a well-deserved death, however, when it was pointed out that Oak Lawn was a more appropriate name for a cemetery or a nursing home.
The name that captivated us all and won hands-down was Valhalla High. The team name was the Vikings and colors were orange and white. The boys all liked the idea of the great and fearless Viking warriors and we girls were enthralled with the idea that Valhalla was the name for the Viking heaven. The football jerseys had all been ordered, signs were going up, supplies ordered, logos printed. We were all excitedly awaiting the first game of the season in our brand new junior-senior high school.
A meeting was called and when my parents returned that night I can still see their angry faces. My mother could barely contain her scorn and outrage as she described how the UDC (United Daughters of the Confederacy)had pushed through their own agenda to rename MY school after the slave-running drunkard and Ku Klux Klan leader, Nathan Forrest. The team name was the Rebels, and colors were red and grey. We even had a flag now, the old confederate cross. Officially, the school was now General Nathan Bedford Forrest Junior-Senior High School.
Everyone was in an uproar. You should know that many, many of the students were from military families, as I was, and our identity was to the United States primarily, and not to the failed Confederacy or to the south in general. But even the “civilian” kids were angry. We all felt betrayed. We WERE betrayed. Our vote and voice had been stripped away and something really ugly had been inflicted upon us. It took a long time to feel any sense of loyalty to the school and all these years later, I still have contempt for the old biddies of the UDC.
I’d still like to see the name Valhalla resurrected somehow. Valhalla High Vikings has a nice ring to it. But then, what about all the peoples that were terrorized by those fierce sea-faring Norsemen? *sigh* Okay, Oak Lawn it is, then.