Forrest High will keep its name

After two years of controversy, school board votes 5-2 to leave the name.

By TOPHER SANDERS, The Times-Union

Nathan Bedford Forrest High School’s name will remain unchanged.

The Duval County School Board voted 5-2 Monday to leave the name of Forrest High School, which honors the Confederate general, slave trader and early leader of the Ku Klux Klan. The decision ends two years of controversy over a possible name change.

The vote to change the name of the majority black school split down racial lines, with board members Betty Burney and Brenda Priestly Jackson, the board’s only black members, casting the two votes to change the name.

Priestly Jackson and Burney said the school was named after Forrest in 1958 as a slap in the face to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Brown vs. Board of Education to integrate schools. "It was done to slap in the face integration and now the school itself is almost all African-American," Burney said.

Board members voting to keep the name said energy surrounding the issue and the resources it would take the change the name are better suited to helping the school improve its academics.

Forrest received an F on the most recent Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

Board member Kris Barnes, who wrote the agenda item recommending the rejection of the name change, said she had a problem that the issue was raised by the community instead of the students going to the school.

Barnes said she wouldn’t be able to understand the pain the name may cause blacks, but said she was frustrated so much time was being spent on a name of a school.

"I would like the see it go through a process started by the student body," Barnes said.

Board member Vicki Drake said she was displeased by the number of people who showed up at Forrest’s School Advisory Council meetings to voice their concerns about the name change, but wouldn’t come to the meetings to help the children at the school succeed.

"The children didn’t ask anybody to change the name of their school, the children asked for help to read and write," Drake said.

Board member Tommy Hazouri agreed with Drake and Barnes.

"For me in my heart, I think the great concern today is moving that school off the F chart," he said. "I believe that we should leave the name where it is."

The board voted after listening to more than two hours of public comment. About 100 people concerned about the name change attending the board meeting.

The public’s statements featured dueling histories and opinions of Forrest and his life. Opponents said removing Forrest’s name was a step toward erasing Southern heritage and called Forrest a civil rights advocate and a good man.

© Copyright The Florida Times-Union

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