Nathan Bedford Forrest High School is a public high school in the Duval County School District located on the Westside of Jacksonville FL. The district named the school for Nathan Bedford Forrest, Confederate General, and first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. It seems that the residents of Jacksonville don’t agree with the remnants of the racism of the Confederate States of America in 2013. With more than 157,000 signatures on petitions and growing mass pressure on the Duval County School Board, community activists are waging a campaign to rename Nathan Bedford Forrest High School.
From its opening in 1959, Forrest High School remained an all-white school until the fall of 1966, when the district allowed a small and carefully selected number of African-American students to enrol. Beginning in 1971, mandatory integration of Duval County Schools by federal district court order introduced a more diverse population, based on geographic attendance districts. Currently, over 1,800 students attend Forrest, 54 percent are African-American. In November 2006, activists submitted the latest in a long line of petitions to change the name of the high school to the Duval County School Board. Some students from Florida State College at Jacksonville wanted to have the school renamed in honour of Eartha M M White, a Jacksonville native and philanthropist, due to Forrest’s connection with the Klan. In November 2008, the Duval County School Board voted 5-2 to keep the name the same.
Spearheaded by the Jacksonville Progressive Coalition (JPC), the campaign to rename Forrest High School hopes to deal another blow against racism and the oppression of African-Americans as a nationality in the South. Mike Stovall, one of the JPC’s leading organisers and one of the architects of the rename campaign, said, “I think the Forrest issue is important to Jacksonville in a few ways. One, it’s a home-grown reaction to a history of subtle racism in this town… the hate under the polite exterior, as it were. Part of what we’re fighting is ignorance of, and the revision of, history”. In July 2013, local residents started a campaign to rename Forrest High School. As of 27 September 2013, the petition had over 113,000 signatures and growing. Today, more than 157,000 residents signed the petition.
The name “Nathan Bedford Forrest” is a blunt reminder of racist hatred, violence, and terror. Forrest was a brutal slave trader, he ordered the infamous Fort Pillow Massacre, and he led the KKK. At Fort Pillow, Forrest’s troops executed hundreds of captured and surrendered Union soldiers, most of whom were African-American, which Forrest bragged about in military dispatches. The United Daughters of the Confederacy chose the name to intimidate courageous African-American civil rights activists, many of them teenagers, struggling for freedom. Stovall said, “I don’t think we can talk about this fight and not talk about current and future students, and about the entirely different message that the city is sending to those kids”. Fernando Figueroa, an organiser with the JPC said, “We’re getting out in the community, so, it’s so clear that people want to rename the school”.
18 October 2013
Voice of Russia World Service