In response to an outcry and a online petition drive that netted more than 160,000 signatures, the DuVal County, Fla., school board on Nov. 8 voted to take steps to rename a high school which carries the name of a 19th century Ku Klux Klan leader.

Changing the name will require the board to seek input from students and the community and to take that information into consideration before holding a final vote to change the name, officials said. That vote has not been scheduled.

The most recent effort to change the name of Nathan Bedford Forrest High School in Jacksonville, Fla., originated with the Black father of an elementary school-aged girl. The parent, Omotoya “Ty” Richmond, urged the change because the school is named for a former slave trader and KKK grand wizard. Earlier this year, he began a campaign on the petition website to have the school’s name changed..

Richmond, who moved to Florida from Long Island, N.Y., told the AFRO earlier this year that he did not want his children or any others, to attend a school named for someone who demonstrated hate in owning slaves and belonging to the Klan. spokesman Mark Anthony Dingbaum said more than 160,000 people had signed Richmond’s petition by Nov. 11. He said school board member Dr. Connie Hall, in whose district the school is located, “brought the issue to a vote” Nov. 8 and that the board voted unanimously to begin the process that could lead to a name change.

“It’s wonderful to see that the school board made a unanimous decision to move this issue forward,” Richmond said in a statement. “They’re clearly listening to the thousands of DuVal County community members who have signed and shared my petition asking for this KKK leader’s name to go away…Change is coming.”

The school was segregated when it was founded in 1959, but the student body is now more than half Black.

According to a Civil War website, Forrest, a Civil War Confederate general, is remembered for being especially cruel. He allegedly murdered members of the U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery in Fort Pillow, near Memphis, Tenn., even though the Black troops had surrendered. Later, “Remember Fort Pillow” became a rallying-cry for African-American soldiers in the Union Army.

The School Advisory Council asked five years ago for a name change, but the school board voted 5-2 against it. A change in membership has spurred the new effort.

Some members of the school’s alumni who sought to keep the name have not been as successful in collecting signatures. A current Klan representative has also opposed the name change.

Click for related articles:

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Zachary Lester

AFRO Staff Writer