The Duval County School Board voted unanimously Monday night to change the name of Nathan Bedford Forrest High School following a years-long campaign by members of the community seeking that.
As the special meeting began, Superintendent Nikolai Vitti recommended the name be changed.
“It is undeniable that the name Nathan B. Forrest is divisive,” Vitti told the board. “It is time for Jacksonville to move on.”
Vitti also presented the findings of a survey of nearly 1,600 stakeholders, with results as follows:
As a result of the board’s decision, Vitti will re-engage stakeholders to share their thoughts on the new name before making a recommendation to the board at its next meeting on January 7.
Vitti recommended that the name be changed effective with the next school year, which will allow current seniors to graduate with a diploma from Forrest.
In 1971, Forrest High became integrated following a federal district court order. Today, over 1,300 students attend, with a student population that is 61.6 percent black, 22.9 percent white,; 8.7 percent Hispanic, 2.6 percent Asian, 3.9 percent multi-racial and 0.3 percent Indian.
“We recognize that we cannot and are not seeking to erase history,” said board member Dr. Constance Hall, who represent District 5, which includes Forrest. “For too long and too many, this name has represented the opposite of unity, respect, and equality – all that we expect in Duval schools. Our board has and is guided by a set of core values that promote equal opportunity, honors differences, and values diversity.”
This latest push to change the name resurfaced in 2012, and for months, people on both sides have signed petitions and attended school board meetings and public hearings to talk about their opinions.
“This has been personal for me since 2007,” said Steven Lance Stoll, who is for the name change. “I was teaching a college class and we were talking about projects to do in my sociology class and one of my students mentioned there was a school named for the grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, and I thought, ‘Come on,’ you know, and I went home immediately and started to investigate it and sure enough it was true.”
A big campaign led by Stoll then did not result in the name change, but with it gaining ground this year, his passion for the name change was reignited.
Alumni of the high school banded together in hopes of keeping the name of the school they graduated from the same.
“Nathan Bedford Forrest was not the man that everybody is making him out to be. Yes, he was grand wizard of the KKK, but when he started this group and when he was in it, it was not a racial group at all,” said Alexis Cluff, a 2004 alumni of Forrest High.
It will cost about a half-million dollars to change everything that bears Forrests’ name. Vitti said community groups have offered to pay the cost so it will not come from education funds.