Nathan B. Forrest was a Civil War lieutenant general in the Confederate Army, a cavalry leader, real estate investor and slave trader. He also served as the first Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan.
It’s with the latter in mind that prompted close to 200,000 people to sign a Change.org petition, launched by a local resident from Florida, which has successfully urged the Duval County Public School Board to rename Nathan B. Forrest High School in Jacksonville, reports Yahoo! News on Wednesday.
“The people who live here deserve better,” says author of the petition Ty Richmond. “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.”
Richmond writes that five years ago, the school board voted 5 - 2 to keep the name, but since then, all five members that voted to retain the name are no longer on the board. She indicates that the new school superintendent, Nikolai P. Vitti, publicly stated that he would support a push from the community to change the name.
“Now is the time to right a historical wrong,” Richmond says. “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.”
On Monday, Duval County Superintendent Nikolai Vitti acknowledged the name change was indeed appropriate.
“If you look at the history of the naming of Nathan B. Forrest High School, the students originally wanted the school to be named Valhalla,” Vitti said. “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.”
Incredulously, the KKK also wrote a letter to the board – urging the school board to keep the name. Their plea was rejected, and the school name is due to be formally changed next year after getting community suggestions.
“I'm very encouraged,” Richmond told Action News Jacksonville. “Jacksonville is too much of a beautiful city to have that ugly blemish.”