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article imageFlorida school named for KKK leader finally gets a name change

By Karen Graham     Dec 17, 2013 in Lifestyle
Jacksonville Beach - The honoring of Civil War heroes has been a tradition in many southern states in the U.S. ever since the end of the war. With the end of segregation in the 1950s, racial attitudes changed, and society wanted those names removed from public buildings.
And so it is with a Florida high school that for the last 54 years has borne the name of a Confederate general, and leader of the Ku Klux Klan.
The Nathan Bedford Forrest High School in Jacksonville, Fla.,has a student population of 1,300, more than half of the students being black. The school will be changing its name in January, 2014, after a petition with more than 160,000 signatures was presented to the Duval County Public School Board.
Omotayo Richmond moved to Jacksonville from New York, started the petition drive and wrote in the Change.org petition that changing the school's name would go a long way toward healing "so much racial division" in Florida.
The opening statement on Mr. Richmond's petition, in part, read: "That’s right, Jacksonville is home to Nathan Bedford Forrest High School, named in honor of a Confederate general who infamously slaughtered Black Union soldiers who’d already surrendered and who was a founding member of the original Ku Klux Klan. The school got its name in 1959, when white civic leaders wanted to protest a court decision that called for integrating public schools."
Confederate Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest
Confederate Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest
from The Photographic History of The Civil War in Ten Volumes: Volume Four, The Cavalry
The school's name was chosen in 1959, after members of the Daughter's of the Confederacy stepped in and suggested the name of General Nathan B. Forrest. The naming of the school for the Confederate general just happened to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Florida seceding from the Union to join the Confederacy.
This move was against the wishes of the student body, who had been given the promise and privilege of being the ones to select the name, mascot and colors for their new school. The students had decided on Valhalla, and the mascot was to be a Viking, with the colors being orange and white.
There had been other times when a name change came up, the latest in 2008. That vote went on racial lines, with the two black school board members voting to change the name, and the five white members voting to keep the name as it was.
Defenders of keeping Confederate names on buildings, parks and street signs are vehement in their opposition to the change, saying this is just one more way to bury anything that has to do with Florida's part in what is considered the history of this country.
Bodie Catlin, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, was at the school board meeting when the petition was brought up for discussion. He said, "If you all go along with this, believe me, they are going to go after every Confederate general name in Jacksonville."
But for those who aren't too familiar with their history of the Civil War, General Forrest wasn't that nice of a person. Besides owning slaves himself, he was a slave trader in Tennessee before joining the Confederacy.
He was accused of war crimes at the Battle of Fort Pillow in April, 1864, where he is alleged to have allowed his forces to soldiers massacre hundreds of black Union army and white southern unionist prisoners. He was eventually cleared of the charges by General William T. Sherman.
The war in Tennessee : Confederate massacre of Federal troops after the surrender at Fort Pillow  Ap...
The war in Tennessee : Confederate massacre of Federal troops after the surrender at Fort Pillow, April 12th, 1864. Published in 1894.
This image is in the public domain; PD-US; PD-ART.
As far as the claims that Forrest was the Grand Wizard of the Klan, there is some question, even today. The first Klan was started on December 24, 1865, in Pulaski, Tennessee. Six Confederate veterans got together to form a "social club." The club, of course, ended up, along with other Klan groups, using violence as a means of trying to halt the social changes taking place in the new south.
But, Grand Wizard or not, it makes no difference to people today. There is instead a movement to erase something that still leaves a bad taste in the mouths of many, and it's just as well to remove the offending taste.
More about Kkk, Florida, confederate states, Civil War, Segregation
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