A school board in Florida decided this week to rechristen a Jacksonville high school named after Nathan Bedford Forrest, a lieutenant general in the Confederate Army during the Civil War and, according to many historians, the first Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan.
Monday’s unanimous 7-0 vote by the Duval County, Fla. school board means that the current moniker of Nathan B. Forrest High School will be retired this summer, reports WPTV, a Florida NBC affiliate.
In January, board members will choose among a few far more milquetoast but definitely less controversial names including Westside High School and Firestone High School.
“We recognize that we cannot and are not seeking to erase history,” said school board member Constance S. Hall, according to First Coast News. “For too long and too many, this name has represented the opposite of unity, respect, and equality — all that we expect in Duval schools; our Board has and is guided by a set of core values that promote equal opportunity, honors differences, and values diversity.”
The name Forrest High has lasted 54 years.
When the school was named in 1959, the student population was entirely white. Things have changed considerably. Now, district figures show that the school is 62 percent black, 23 percent white and 9 percent Hispanic (and, presumably, six percent some other classification).
The school district undertook a fairly massive survey of students, faculty members, alumni and community members before the board voted on the name change.
Overall, 64 percent of the students supported a name change while 48 percent of faculty members supported it. Only 25 percent of the surveyed community members and 6 percent of the alumni supported the change.
District superintendent Nikolai Vitti told First Coast News that new signage and various other changes resulting from the new name will cost about $400,000.
Forrest was a gifted Confederate cavalry commander. However, his troops were involved in a massacre of hundreds of black Union Army soldiers at a Tennessee fort.
Before the Civil War, Forrest was a very successful planter, real estate investor and slave trader.
After the war, he was a substantially less successful businessman in Tennessee. Forrest’s devotees insist that he distanced himself from the Ku Klux Klan when the racist group began to engage in violence and terrorism.