Fla. school named for KKK figure to be changed
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A Florida school board has decided to end a decades-long controversy and rename a high school now named for a Confederate general and honorary Ku Klux Klan leader that some historical records say ordered the execution of hundreds of black Union soldiers.
The Duval County School Board said it was following the will of its students Monday when it voted unanimously to change the name of Nathan B. Forrest High in Jacksonville. The change will take place next year once a new name is chosen, said Superintendent Nikolai Vitti.
“What I want is for students at Nathan Bedford Forrest to use this as a civics lesson,” Vitti said. He said he hopes students realize that they can make a difference.
“Everybody is glad about it,” De’jia Boatwright, a 15-year-old 10th-grader at the school.
About half of the faculty and a majority of alumni surveyed disagreed with the name change, but 64 percent of students at the black-majority high school were in favor of dropping the name. The school board said it based its decision on what the students wanted. Forrest High opened as an all-white school in the 1950s. Its name was suggested by the Daughters of the Confederacy, who saw it as a protest to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that eventually integrated the nation’s public schools.
Born in 1821, Forrest amassed a fortune as a plantation owner and slave trader, importing Africans long after the practice had been made illegal. He was a cavalry general for the Confederacy in the Civil War.
In 1867, the newly formed Klan elected Forrest its honorary Grand Wizard or national leader, but he publicly denied being involved. In 1869, he ordered the Klan to disband because of the members’ increasing violence. Two years later, a congressional investigation concluded his involvement had been limited to his attempt to disband it. Opponents of the name change told the school board said the name change is a waste of money, based on history that may be inaccurate.
“This issue happened 150 years ago,” said Jim Taylor, a 1978 Forrest graduate. “We have to move on. Let the issue go. if you guys change the name, this could be a waste of taxpayer money.”
Vitti said it will cost about $400,000 to change the name on signs, sports uniforms and the gym floor. Proponents of the name change said the issue would not go away until the board agreed to it.
“If you do not, this issue will come back again and again and again,” said Audrey Moran, a former prosecutor and mayoral chief of staff.