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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.