A High School Named for a Klansman?

First Grand Wizard Continues to Be Honored in Jacksonville, Fla.
Grand Wizard Gen. Nathan B. Forrest

Boy, white people did some wacky stuff during the Civil Rights era. Here’s one example.

In 1959, after being compelled by the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Topeka Board of Education to stop maintaining separate “but equal” public schools, the Confederate Daughters of America (CDA) in Jacksonville, Fla. exacted revenge. They led a successful drive to name a public high school after none other than Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK).

Spiteful and childish move, amirite? I bet you’re thinking it didn’t take long to correct that little work of malice. Well, you’d be wrong. Because to this day, students in Jacksonville continue to graduate from Forrest High.

Sure, over the years, there have been various attempts to have the name changed. After all, Forrest, a Tennessee native, had no relationship with Jacksonville. In fact, he never even visited the town. The CDA just looked around for the worst example of a white guy they could find, and there, like a shimmering star, was Nathan Bedford Forrest.

Forrest distinguished himself by rising from the rank of private to general in the Confederate army. He also ensured his place in history by killing (possibly hundreds of) black Union soldiers at Fort Pillow, Tenn. after they surrendered, purportedly because he couldn’t stand the sight of black men in American uniforms. For this, he was charged with war crimes and although he got off, for the rest of his life, he was known as the Butcher of Fort Pillow.

That is, until he was known as the first Grand Wizard of the Klan. And until the Confederate Daughters helped him to become known as that guy Jacksonville named a high school after.

Changing the name might have its best shot right now, because a new superintendent of schools is in town, and he seems to get why students, particularly the 54 percent who are African-American that attend Forrest High, might not want to graduate from a high school named after a Klan leader. He’s asked the community to let him hear from them, and sentiment seems to be falling one of three ways.

  1. Leave the name alone because I graduated from Forrest H.S. and what will we do when we have reunions? My school will be wiped off the map.
  2. Leave the name alone because if you’re going to start changing everything named after racists, where does it end? For example, there’s also a Robert E. Lee High School in Jacksonville. And while Gen. and Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower kept a portrait of Lee on the wall of his office because he respected him as a military leader, let’s face it, Lee fought to secede from the United States so that white people could own black people. Others add that the name of the city itself should be changed. Andrew Jackson was to many one of our worst presidents, responsible for the genocide that was the Trail of Tears and himself a cold-blooded killer.
  3. Change the name because…Seriously? You need to have this spelled out?

There are several petitions floating around to ditch the Nathan Bedford Forrest legacy. You don’t have to be a Jacksonvillian to sign, so here’s one that needs your help.


  • September 23, 2013 - 1:22 pm | Permalink

    I wrote about this last week ( “Nathan Bedford Forrest – A 21st Century Travesty” http://thehounddawg.com/?p=1622 ). At the Fort Pillow massacre, it was not just soldiers that were killed, but also women and children who had been living in the fort. There was an earlier attempt to re-name the Florida school that failed in 2007.

    And, the state of Tennessee has many attractions honoring the Butcher of Fort Pillow, including a state park named after him and a statute at the Univ of TN Health Sciences Park.

    All totally disgusting.

  • September 23, 2013 - 1:30 pm | Permalink

    Thanks HoundDawg. Your post was a good one and I hope people check it out.

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  • brian
    February 28, 2015 - 4:22 am | Permalink


    1. Upfront, I don’t care what the high school is named.
    2. Whether a person is a self-described progressive, conservative or libertarian, I don’t care.
    3. The material is more nuanced than short-hand pigeon holing like “he was a great man” or “he was the personification of evil”. Take the time to research his life.
    4. He was clearly an opportunist, like most people, even those of self-avowed piety. He was a slave trader.
    5. He also gave his slaves their papers 18 months before the end of the Civil War (and I don’t care whether it is called the War Between the States).
    6. He had over 40 slaves ride with him during the conflict. That is 40 people who could have shot him in the back, killed him under darkness of night. One deserted. Twenty voluntarily returned home with him at the end of the conflict.
    7. It is very difficult to go through life without categorizing other people. Conversely, it is fascinating to take the time to examine facts.

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