A high school in Jacksonville with a majority African-American student population is named for the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, which is just wrong on so many levels. Now the school's name is getting some national attention after a Change.org petition to have the name changed has garnered more than 70,000 signatures.
The school was opened in 1959, and the school board collected name suggestions from various community organizations. The Daughters of the Confederacy suggested Nathan Bedford Forrest High School and was ultimately successful.
Forrest was a Confederate lieutenant general during the Civil War. Schools named for Confederate generals in Jacksonville aren't particularly uncommon. Students who attend Forrest High usually come from J.E.B. Stuart or Jefferson Davis Middle School, both named after Confederate leaders.
Forrest was accused of war crimes for the massacre of hundreds of black Union troops, though formal charges were never brought. He's also suspected of being the first grand wizard of the KKK, though some historians dispute the claim. However, he was undoubtedly publicly supportive of the group despite later in life distancing himself from it.
Still, many critics think the name is inappropriate, especially for a school with a 54 pecent African-American student population. According to the Washington Post, the school board considered changing the name in 2007 but voted 5-2 to keep it.
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A Change.org petition started by Omotayo Richmond is now bringing new attention to the name. In the petition, Richmond writes:
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.
Several schools named for Forrest have changed their names, but another still stands in Forrest's Tennessee hometown.