JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Among the Duval County Public Schools is a high school named Nathan Bedford Forrest High School. The school opened its doors in 1959 when racial segregation was law of the land here. United Daughters of the Confederacy had suggested the name. Forrest H.S. is now a modern day public institution where a large number of African American students attend.
Forrest, a Tennessee native, was a founder of and the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. He was a Confederate general, a slave owner and trader. Some sources proclaim he later distanced himself from the racist KKK. Regardless, a group of progressives here have launched a campaign to change the name of the school.
The Jacksonville Progressive Coalition and activist Lance Stoll have attempted before to get the school district to change the name. In 2007, they lost in a 5-to-2 school board vote.
But that hasn’t dissuaded Stoll from trying again. After reading a statement by Duval County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Nikolai Vitti saying he was willing to change the name of the high school, Stoll wrote a response, which was published. He emailed the superintendent, whose office responded saying Vitti requests petitions from the local community to make it happen.
A petition on change.org started by Omotayo Richmond, entitled “Duval Public Schools: No More KKK Schools,” has more than 84,000 signatures. But the superintendent says that’s not community-based, according to a report in the Washington Post. So petitions can be signed in person on Saturdays at the Riverside Arts Market.
But changing the name of the high school is only one step in deconstruction of the South’s racial oppression. Numerous homages to Confederate generals and the Rebel army still loom large through Florida and all southern states. Streets named after Stonewall (after Confederate General Stonewall Jackson) or the crumbling, neglected park in historic Springfield off Main Street, named “Confederate Park,” are just a few examples. Both landmarks are in predominately low-income areas that have racially diverse populations.
The Klan is still a fully functioning organization, as are several “white power” groups in the South and spread through the United States. The Klan may claim it’s nonviolent, but that will not change the heritage of racial prejudice and bigotry, which divides society. The Southern Poverty Law Center says three chapters of the KKK are still active in Florida.
Old habits die hard, and it’s no surprise there is minor resistance from some white residents that claim their “heritage” is being erased.
Although many are motivated to change this “heritage” for social justice reasons, Vitti advocates a name change in hopes of attracting more business and commerce to Jacksonville. He told WJXT, “One thing I’ve been talking a lot about is the need to modernize Jacksonville. If we want folks to come here, whether it’s business, it’s high level employees to Jacksonville, names of schools, names of parks, it all matters. “
Progressives say the true symbolism behind the name change is that of social justice, a solid stepping stone for the South to “rise again,” this time united beyond the strangle hold of oppression based on gender, race, and class.