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Should Jacksonville’s Nathan Bedford Forrest High Be Named for KKK’s Grand Wizard?

| September 24, 2013

Nathan Bedford Forrest always liked his surroundings to be white.

Nathan Bedford Forrest always liked his surroundings to be white.

By Julie Delegal

“Never apologize for being right.” The words alone are provocative, but when they appear on a T-shirt with a giant Confederate flag, they become both inflammatory and puzzling.

Never apologize for what? Secession? Slavery? How about white supremacy?

The fight to rename Jacksonville’s Nathan Bedford Forrest High School raises the question. Should a public school in 2013 be named for the original grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan? At least 75,000 people who signed a petition urging that the name be changed are generating national attention.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the stars-and-bars on the east side of the river in my city. They’re usually spotted stretched out on backs of pickup trucks, and not — as I eyed them recently — displayed in a local eatery, on the backs of two young men in their 20s. I wondered what the black cashier thought of the T-shirted young pair when she served them.

One clever politician here, Glorious Johnson, once tried to defuse the power of the symbol on the cover of Folio Weekly. She may be the only black woman in history to have worn the Confederate flag on her shirt.

For many whites and blacks in Jacksonville, reminders of the Confederacy are offensive. Indeed, according to civil rights historian and author, Rodney L. Hurst, the naming of Forrest High School in 1959 was intended to be an insult.

context floridaAt that time, Jacksonville’s School Board was thumbing its nose at the nation in the wake of the 1954 Supreme Court decision that banned school segregation. And while current Superintendent Nikolai Vitti is on record supporting the idea of a name change, news of the petition gaining traction was answered by vague references to “policy.” Translation: No one wants to touch this time-consuming hot potato.

In 2007, the Duval County School board voted down a new name for Forrest in a 5-2 decision, with the board’s only two black members voting in favor of the change.

Enter first-term Duval County School Board Member Jason Fischer. He used his GOP credentials to get elected in what’s supposed to be a nonpartisan race in Duval.

He says policy allows board members to initiate talks about school name changes, and he plans to do just that at his next town hall meeting. He says he won’t defend racists or racism in any form.

The editors of the Florida Times Union imply that we should leave the disgraceful name intact until “it’s time” to change it, arguing that we should focus, instead, on students and families.

Fischer seems to know that changing the name of “KKK High School,” and serving students and families, aren’t mutually exclusive goals. The renaming issue will continue to re-emerge, though, until the inevitable task is done.

In a national culture where some people use conservatism as a proxy for an anti-socialist-Muslim-Kenyan brand of racism, Fischer’s leadership is refreshing. It’s going to take leadership from inside the GOP to oust the extremists, the obstructionists, and the flat-out crazies who came to power in the 2010 elections.

Some issues, after all, are more important than party loyalty. Jason Fischer is only a few years older than the T-shirted men I saw in the restaurant. Can he help lead Jacksonville out of this shameful part of its history?

Julie Delegal, a lifelong Floridian, is a contributing writer for Jacksonville’s Folio Weekly and a ContextFlorida columnist.

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15 Responses for “Should Jacksonville’s Nathan Bedford Forrest High Be Named for KKK’s Grand Wizard?”

  1. anonymous says:

    Lets hear the infamous “that’s just the way we were raised.” comments. How about I was raised to treat people the way I want to be treated and if YOU weren’t, then someone failed you along the way. But what’s done is done there are injustices happening all over this planet and this is another one that keeps on giving. If people want to continue to put blinders on when it comes to race relations that they feel don’t effect them so be it but don’t claim your a child of God when you can’t display enough empathy to relate to your fellow man and neighbor.

  2. Lynard says:

    I want one of those t-shirts !!!

  3. yikes! says:

    Black history is not even honored on Flagler or Volusia counties. I find it very unsettling to see and know the tolerance and ignorance here as if in fact people or still fighting the civil war. There is not a single museum depicting the horrible inhumanity a.d truth about racism

    • JL says:

      yikes! – Why should anyone teach solely black history, white history, etc. Isn’t it American History?
      I grew up in the Florida school system. I was tought American History and that INCLUDED teaching me about slavery and how horribly African American’s were treated. Af. Americans keep shouting that they want fair and equal treatment, but in the same sentence they want to be singled out.
      There are many museums across the North and South that depict the horrible inhumanity of racism in our past. Let’s see, the Smithsonium comes to mind right off the bat. I have traveled to 49 of these wonderful states. I’ve been to many museums, small and large. There are too many to list that depict our history, truthfully. That show racism, all kinds, not just the black/white kind. That showed what our ancestors did to others. Oh, and you want truth about racism, or only 1 side of racism? If you want the truth, then that discussion would need to show that racism is more than white hating black. Unfortunately, our country still has too much of all kinds.
      Btw, I believe the school should change the name.

  4. Johnny Taxpayer says:

    “In a national culture where some people use conservatism as a proxy for an anti-socialist-Muslim-Kenyan brand of racism” Doesn’t this statement essentially do the very same thing, the author claims to be against?

  5. Genie says:

    ABSOLUTELY NOT.

    What are these people thinking? What next, Adolph Hitler High? Che Guevara High? Joseph Stalin High?

  6. Jordyn says:

    I’ve worked in Jacksonville for over 20 years. I absolutely agree they should change the name of the school, and the quicker they do it, the less fuss it will cause.

    That said, I was extremely disturbed by the last two paragraphs of this article. “Anti-socialist-Muslim-Kenyan brand of racism” is quite a lumping together of terms. Disagreeing with the concept of socialism is in NO WAY a form of racism. A socialist could be a member of any race. A Muslim is not a race, but a person who follows the religion of Islam, and a Kenyan is not a race, but a person from Kenya. Is the writer trying to use some kind of buzz words to lightly camouflage a belief that most if not all conservatives are racists? I hate to break it to her, but there are plenty of “extremists, obstructionists, and flat-out crazies,” and yes, even racists, within the Democrat party as well.

    We need to stop defining our problems at the political level – that is a huge part of this country’s current problems. Stop acting surprised that there could be a good person on the other side of the aisle from you. Stop assuming that you know someone else’s thoughts based only on their voter id card. Stop calling out groups and start calling out individuals. We are all HUMANS, and we need to start acting like it.

  7. Frenchy says:

    And we named our High School….Mantanzas High !!! How ironic !!!

  8. TyCobbHimself says:

    Massacre High School, I guess that sounds right when they lose all those football games.

  9. I/M/O says:

    Should we change the name of pour nation’s Capitol? After all George Washington was a slave owner.

    I also demand the City of Rome New york change it’s name. After all it was the Roman’s who crucified Jesus and fed Christians to the lions.

  10. Florida Native says:

    The South shall rise again! Go Johhny Reb!

  11. Sherry Epley says:

    Just read some of the racist comments here! This is exactly why the horrible name of that school needs to change!

    Our school curriculum, even in the 21st century, is still racially biased. Take a look at this web site for proof: http://www.ithaca.edu/wise/race_african_american/ I found many many similar legitimate examples in just 4 miutes of “Google” research.

    Yes, many of our text books admit there was cruelty in slavery, but very few give any kind of focused attention to the great accomplishments of all the people of color who have been a major part of creating our wonderful United States of America.

    Now, if only we could come together as a nation and make that word UNITED really mean something again!

  12. Rick says:

    Forrest became a devout Christian later in life and actually spoke out publicly for the rights of former slaves. Read about it in the book “Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Redemption” by Shane E. Kastler. Very even-handed and well written book.

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