Forrest High Name Change Rejected At School Board

Posted By: Erich Spivey     Created: 11/3/2008

JACKSONVILLE, FL — The Duval County School Board Monday night decided the issue of whether a mostly black high school should continue to bear the name of Nathan Bedford Forrest — a Confederate general, slave trader and early Ku Klux Klan leader.

The seven-member board, which has two black members, rejected changing the name by a vote of 5 to 2.

Before the vote, dozens of people on both sides of the issue addressed the school board. It lasted three hours to gather all the public input.

"If we change the name of Forrest High School, is it over with? This woman said no, we’re going after everyone one of them, with a confederate general’s name. That’s crazy," says Lance Eunice.

"What could we put on a bumper sticker for Nathan Forrest? My child goes to a school named for a Ku Klux Klan member," says Mike Siebert.

Kris Barnes, the Board member who placed the item on the agenda, recommended denying the request to rename the school.

One of the suggestions was Firestone, which is the name of the street where the school sits. Another is proposal is to honor former Forrest graduate Scott Speicher, a Navy pilot whose plane was shot down over Iraq on Jan. 17, 1991, on the first night of Operation Desert Storm. His body has never been found, and he is listed as "missing/captured," although the Navy is reviewing the case.

Forrest High School opened as an all-white school in the 1950s. Its name was suggested by the Daughters of the Confederacy, who saw it as a protest to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that eventually integrated the nation’s public schools.

But now more than half of Forrest High’s students are black.

The issue has come up several times over the past half-century, but the School Board has never changed the name. Jacksonville has three other schools named after Confederate generals, but it also has schools named after civil rights icons.

The decision to keep the name is expected to draw some heated arguments among alumni, who want the name to stay the same, and those who believe the school’s name is an insult to blacks.

Born poor in Chapel Hill, Tenn., in 1821, Forrest amassed a fortune as a plantation owner and slave trader, importing Africans long after the practice had been made illegal. At 40, he enlisted as a private in the Confederate army at the outset of the Civil War, rising to a cavalry general in a year.

Some accounts accused Forrest of ordering black prisoners to be massacred after a victory at Tennessee’s Fort Pillow in 1864, though historians question the validity of the claims.

In 1867, the newly formed Klan elected Forrest its honorary Grand Wizard or national leader, but he publicly denied being involved. In 1869, he ordered the Klan to disband because of the members’ increasing violence. Two years later, a congressional investigation concluded his involvement had been limited to his attempt to disband it.

After his death in 1877, memorials to him sprung up throughout the South, particularly in Tennessee. A mounted statue of Forrest and the graves of the general and his wife are in a Memphis park bearing his name.

©2008 Associated Press/First Coast News.

On The Web: