A Jacksonville, Fla. father is waging a campaign to change the name of a school that was named after Nathan Bedford Forrest, a slave trader and the first “grand wizard” of the Klu Klux Klan.
Omotoya Richmond is the originator of the fast-growing petition on Change.org that has amassed more than 77,000 signatures at last count on Sept. 12.
The Long Island, N.Y. transplant told the AFRO he did not want his 7-year-old daughter—or any other child—who may eventually matriculate at a high school in Duval County, to have to attend a school named after someone whose legacy is that of hate.
“Now is the time to right a historical wrong. African American Jacksonville students shouldn't have to attend a high school named for someone who slaughtered and terrorized their ancestors one more school year,” Richmond wrote in his petition. “In the end, I want my child to be able to go anywhere in Jacksonville and be proud of where she is. That can't happen with Nathan Bedford Forrest High School.”
Forrest High got its name in 1959, when it was founded with White-only students. In the decades since then, the school has been integrated, and its student body is majority African-American.
Forrest, a Confederate general during the Civil War, was one of the most polarizing figures of that era. He is most remembered for slaughtering Black soldiers of the U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery at Fort Pillow, near Memphis, after they had already surrendered. After the gruesome execution, “Remember Fort Pillow” became a rallying-cry for African-American soldiers throughout the Union Army, according to a Civil War website.
“I think it’s horrible to be associated with that, especially in a majority-Black school,” Richmond said. “I can’t do anything about terrorism in Syria and Iraq, but I can do something here in Duval County.”
Richmond has to amass at least 10,000 signatures from local residents for the school board to consider changing the name. Five years ago, the School Advisory Council requested that the school be renamed, but the school board voted 5-2 against it. The board’s membership has since changed.
The Jacksonville campaigner said he is buoyed by the outpouring of support.
“There are many former and current students who agree with me and are signing my petition. This is a community issue, and we're showing that the community is ready for change."
Among those who commented on the Change.org petition was Jacksonville parent Dawn B., who said, “My son is a senior at Forrest HS. I was watching a documentary about this KKK leader and was disgusted that my son, who is Black attends a school named after a man who murdered and victimized many Blacks in his lifetime.”
Jacksonville native Vanessa W., added, “There is so much power in a name and, unfortunately, the potency in Nathan B Forrest High School’s name is detrimental to our students and community….To celebrate a legacy rooted in separation and hatred is to completely undermine all the values we seek to instill in our young scholars. As a product of Duval County Public Schools and current public school teacher, I challenge governing bodies to create a better future by honoring a less shameful past.”
Signatures on the petition are delivered via e-mail to Duval County School District Superintendent Nikolai Vitti, who said in a recent interview with NPR that he “would support a name change recommendation if brought organically to the [school] board by the community.”
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