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Victory: Jacksonville activists win name change for Nathan B. Forrest High School

By staff

School was named for KKK grand wizard

Jacksonville, FL – With more than 50 activists and community members present, the Duval County School Board voted unanimously, Dec. 16, to change the name of Nathan Bedford Forrest High School. The historic vote by the school board comes at the end of a six-month campaign by the Jacksonville Progressive Coalition (JPC) and other forces to drop the local high school's racist namesake.

“We have to change the name of this school because this city can no longer honor a slave trader, war criminal and grand wizard of the KKK,” said Richard Blake, a Teamster and member of the JPC who spoke at the school board meeting before the vote. “The heritage of Nathan B. Forrest is not our heritage – it is that of the oppressor.”

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti began the school board meeting by sharing the board's findings in polling the community about the name change. A poll conducted last week by the school board at Forrest High School found that about 64% of the student body favored changing the name. He then made a recommendation to the board to change the school's name, which was approved by every board member.

Paula D. Wright, one of the school board members who spoke out in support of the name change, said, “We talk about what's in a name. A name does matter because it can service the foundation of how we think of ourselves and how we move beyond the particular place we're in at the time.” She shared with the board and the audience her own story of attending school and receiving second-class treatment as an African American student. “This moves our entire city towards equality and justice.”

The campaign to rename Forrest High School drew hundreds of community activists together, who attended forums, gathered petitions and protested the school's racist name. More than 160,000 people signed an online petition at started by Jacksonville community activist Omotayo Richmond. The JPC spent months gathering more than 2000 hand-written community surveys, which overwhelmingly showed support for changing the name. Supporters of the name change also brought their energy and arguments to several town hall forums called by the school board, which pressured the board into changing the name.

Forrest High School, named after the infamously racist slave trader and Confederate general Nathan B. Forrest, received its name in 1959. The United Daughters of the Confederacy chose the name as a stunt to protest the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, which desegregated all-white schools throughout the country. To advance their racist agenda, they ignored the students' vote to keep the school named Valhalla High School.

The name Nathan Bedford Forrest is a blunt reminder of racist hatred, violence and terror. Forrest was a brutal slave trader, ordered the infamous Fort Pillow Massacre, and led the KKK. At Fort Pillow, Forrest’s troops executed hundreds of captured and surrendering Union soldiers, most of whom were African American, which Forrest bragged about in his military dispatches. The Daughters of the Confederacy chose the name to intimidate courageous African American civil rights activists, many of them teenagers, struggling for freedom.

“Tonight was a historic blow to the racism of the Deep South,” said Fernando Figueroa, an activist with the JPC. “The neo-confederates who spoke in favor of Forrest saw the writing on the wall. We're building the freedom struggle in Jacksonville star by star.”

When Forrest High School opened in 1959, it was an all-white, segregated school. Today, 54% of the school's approximately 1800 students are African-American.

Jason Fischer, another school board member, concluded his remarks in support of the name change, saying, “We need to make today about honoring the future, which is our children.”

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