Nathan B. Forrest High School, Named For KKK Imperial Wizard, Finally Gets A Name Change
Over in Jacksonville, Fla., Nathan B. Forrest High School — named after the Klu Klux Klan's first Imperial Wizard, Nathan B. Forrest — is finally set to be renamed, after decades of being a terrible idea. The school district board voted unanimously Monday night, after board-rejected pleas dating back at least 2006 to drop the name.
The final push took 160,000 signatures, started on a change.org petition by dad Omatayo Richmond, whose daughter attends the school. As Richmond wrote on the petition's page:
I moved to Jacksonville from Long Island 12 years ago. Since then, I’ve put down roots here. I’ve helped raise a beautiful daughter here. This place is my home now, and the people who live here deserve better than a high school named for the first Grand Wizard of the KKK ...
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.
And soon as the change was proposed, an “imperial kaltrop" of the KKK wrote a letter to the board to protest the change. When the KKK is pleading with you to keep things the way they are, you know something's off.
Given the school's history and demographics, the name change could have come much earlier. In fact, the school was meant to be named Valhalla High School before it opened in 1959, until the Daughters of the Confederacy came by to push for Forrest. They argued that he should be honored because he was a successful slave trader before the war and also the KKK's Imperial Wizard, both of which are terrible reasons.
It also wasn't popular with many of the area's residents, according to Susan Wittenberg, who was one of the school's first students.
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.
Said Superintendent Nikolai Vitti: "Politics reigned and as a response to desegregation and the civil rights movement, the school was named Nathan B. Forrest. That was not the will of the students, and considering the opinion of the students in this process, 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."
Like... the school's African-American students? More than half of the students at the school are black, so it's probably not a lot of fun going to school named after one of the first major leaders of the KKK. But that diversity has only come about in recent years: The school wasn't fully integrated until 1971, when the Feds instructed the school to diversify.
And the school and its surrounding district are still hugely offensive in a whole bunch of ways. We could talk about the feeder schools, the J.E.B. Stuart (Robert E. Lee's right-hand army man) and Jefferson Davis (yup, the Confederate president) Middle Schools. Or their school colors, grey and maroon — the colors of Confederate uniforms.
And there's no word yet on whether they'll be changing their Confederate-era mascot, either.
(Image: Wikimedia Commons)