On Friday evening, Jacksonville’s Duval County School Board unanimously voted to start the process of changing Nathan Bedford Forrest High School’s name, according to a release from Change.org. The process reportedly includes collecting student and community input before bringing the issue to a final vote.
Board member Dr. Connie Hall, who represents District 5 where NBFHS is located, brought the issue to a vote Friday after announcing that she supports changing the name of the school.
This is not the first time a vote has been put before the Duval County School Board to change the name. In 2007, ABC reports that Florida State College at Jacksonville professor Lance Stoll and a group of his students went into the community with surveys asking residents whether they would prefer that the name of the high school be changed. According to Stoll, the vast majority of the more than 6000 responses they received favored changing the school’s name.
Two days after Stoll presented the information to the Duval County Public Schools Board at a board meeting, the board voted 5-2 to keep the high school’s name.
The board’s unanimous decision to take up the matter in 2013 was prompted by a Change.org petition, which has so far garnered more than 160,000 signatures online, that was launched by Jacksonville father Omatayo “Ty” Richmond. Richmond says he believes it’s unfair for the nearly 55 percent African American student body to attend a school named after a founding member of the KKK.
“It’s wonderful to see that the school board made a unanimous decision to move this issue forward,” said Richardson. “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. I am very encouraged by Dr. Hall’s leadership, and the outspoken support from [Duval County Superintendent Nikolai] Vitti. Change is coming.”
Even with the recent move, Marsha Oliver, the communications chief for the Duval County School District, insists the petition will have no impact on whether the district changes the school’s name. A name change proposal must come from the community and the final decision rests with the school board members, she said.
Alumni have so far not been in line with a name change. D.F. Buddy Harris, a 1977 alumnus of Nathan Bedford Forrest High School, started a petition to keep the school named after Forrest in September and while it has not generated the numbers that Richmond’s has, most of his support has come from the community and other Forrest graduates.
“It’s obviously nothing near what the other folks have gotten, but we’re doing what we can,” Harris told the Daily World in September.
He launched his petition in September on a website he maintains for friends and alumni of the school. He says that those calling for a name change ignore the full history of Forrest’s life.
“[Forrest] did have initial association with the group, but got out as soon as it started getting…I guess you could say bad. Let’s call it that,” said Harris. “I don’t know if maybe there’s some different intent [for changing the school's name]. You can say one thing, but the real agenda is something different. I just don’t think it would be a good thing to try and erase history.”
Vitti will now gather input from the community, including the School Advisory Council, PTA, and from current students and alumni. The board will then review the input and set a date to vote on the name change.
You can check out Ty Richmond’s petition here: https://www.change.org/petitions/duval-public-schools-no-more-kkk-high-school