After more than 160,000 people signed a Change.org petition calling for Nathan B. Forrest High School in Jacksonville to change its name, the Duval County Public School Board has unanimously voted to strip the early Ku Klux Klan leader’s name from the Florida school.
The issue was brought before the board in November by Dr. Connie Hall, who represents District 5 where NBFHS is located, after announcing that she supports changing the name of the school.
The vote comes after multiple previous attempts to change the name from that of the former KKK leader. 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.
At Monday night’s special school board meeting, superintendent Nikolai Vitti told attendees:
“If you look at the history of the naming of Nathan B. Forrest High School, the students originally wanted the school to be named Valhalla. Politics reigned and as a response to desegregation and the civil rights movement, the school was named Nathan B. Forrest. That was not the will of the students, and considering the opinion of the students in this process, I think it is an opportunity to give voice to students whose voices were not heard in the beginning and can certainly be heard now.”
Richmond launched the petition in September and while his motion quickly gathered steam around the nation, many in and around Jacksonville seemed supportive of keeping the name.
“A lot of the students don’t seem to care about the name. It doesn’t seem to affect them at all,” said D.F. Harris, a 1977 alum of Forrest High School who started an online petition to keep the school’s name the same. “[Forrest] is just a person the school was named after. Nobody’s an angel, but he went on to do better things later in life.”
After the vote, Richmond responded.
“Jacksonville is where I call home, and it’s where I’m raising my daughter, so I’m incredibly proud of the Jacksonville community, current students and faculty, and of course the school board for supporting this change and for moving Jacksonville forward,” he said. “I’m also grateful to the more than 160,000 people who signed my petition on Change.org. This school was named after Forrest in spite of the desegregation of schools and Jacksonville is a beautiful place that shouldn’t be stained by such hatred.”
Monday night’s vote concludes a month-long process of soliciting input from current and former students and community members, and ends Richmond’s four month-long campaign to remove the KKK leader’s name from the school.
Last week, school board members held a public town hall meeting and surveyed alumni and students, prompting supporters of the name to wave a Confederate flag outside the school last Wednesday. In October, an “Imperial Kaltrop” of the KKK penned a letter to the Duval County School Board, denouncing Richmond’s Change.org petition as “ignoring the truth,” and urging the sitting board members to “take a decisive stand.”