A Florida high school named after the first “grand wizard” of the Ku Klux Klan will finally get a new name, after a community outcry successfully pushed school officials to make the change.
The Duval County School Board voted Monday to rename the Nathan Bedford Forrest High School in Jacksonville, Fla., when the school year begins next August.
The decision was driven in part by an online petition started by a parent in the Jacksonville community. The petition garnered more than 160,000 signatures. ”This place is my home now, and the people who live here deserve better than a high school named for the first Grand Wizard of the KKK,” Omotayo Richmond wrote in his petition, adding that “African American Jacksonville students shouldn’t have to attend a high school named for someone who slaughtered and terrorized their ancestors one more school year.”
“I’m very encouraged and Jacksonville’s too much of a beautiful city to have that ugly blemish,” Richmond told local Fox station WAWS after Monday’s vote.
Duval County School Board member Connie Hall led the change within the school board, and she cheered the decision Monday in a statement. “For too long and too many, this name has represented the opposite of unity, respect, and equality,” Hall said in a statement.
The issue of the school’s name actually came up back in 2008, but the school board voted against changing the name at the time.
Although this week’s vote to rename the school was unanimous, according to WAWS, the debate brought forward at least one Klan group that opposed the name change. A letter penned by the “Imperial Kaltrop” of a Missouri branch of the KKK claimed that Forrest was not guilty of “slaughtering” blacks and argued that the Klan’s founding was necessary to fight against “Yankee carpet baggers, scalawags, and many bestial blacks and other criminal elements.”
The school’s new name won’t be chosen until next year, but some new names have already been floated. A columnist for the Florida Times-Union suggested naming the school after Scott Speicher, an alum of the school who became the first American combat casualty of the Persian Gulf War when he was shot down.
“I want to change it to anybody that’s positive, anybody that’s uplifting the community,” Richmond said in October.
What do you think the school should be named? Tell us in the comments.