An online petition prompts local school board to change name of Nathan Bedford Forrest High
A Florida high school whose name commemorates a leader of the Ku Klux Klan will be renamed, officials said on Monday.
The Nathan Bedford Forrest High School in Jacksonville, where more than half the students are black, will change its name from that of the Ku Klux Klan’s first grand wizard from the start of the next school year in August.
A new name will be proposed in January. The change is due, in part, to an online petition that garnered more than 160,000 signatures.
“We recognize that we cannot and are not seeking to erase history,” said Constance Hall, a Duval County school board member. The 1,300-student public school was founded 54 years ago and integrated in 1971.
“For too long and too many, this name has represented the opposite of unity, respect and equality,” Hall said in a statement.
Some say honoring of Confederate heroes and emblems pays homage to regional history. Others say the practice amounts to nothing more than continued racism.
In February, Memphis, Tenn. dropped Confederate names from three city parks. One was named after Forrest, a slaveholder before the Civil War, in which he served as a Confederate general.
The school’s name change comes after several incidents increased racial tensions in Florida.
Last year, a federal lawsuit alleged civil rights violations in a west-central Florida school district after two black women who scored well on an adult skills test were accused of cheating.
In July of this year, white former community patrol guard George Zimmerman was acquitted of murder charges in the 2012 killing of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in central Florida.
In August, Omotayo Richmond, who moved to Jacksonville from New York, wrote in a Change.org petition that changing the school’s name would help in healing “so much racial division” in Florida.
“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,” Richmond wrote.
Five years ago, school board officials voted to keep the name, but those officials have since been replaced, the petition said.
According to school officials, most people never really wanted the school to be named after Nathan B. Forrest.
When the school opened in 1959, students voted to name it “Valhalla.” But a group called Daughters of the Confederacy convinced the school board to change its name.
“That was not the will of the students,” Supt. Nikolai Vitti said at a school board meeting Monday night. “I think it is an opportunity to give voice to students whose voices were not heard in the beginning and can certainly be heard now.”
Al Jazeera and wire services