Residents of Jacksonville, Fla., are trying to get school officials to strike the name of Nathan B. Forrest—a former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard—from the title of their high school.
Administrators attached Forrest’s name to the school in 1959 in an act of defiance to integration laws enforced by the case of Brown v. Board of Education. Jacksonville resident Omotayo Richmond launched a Change.org petition asking the Duval County School Board to change the name. He has collected 150,000 signatures so far.
An effort to change the name back in 2008 failed by a vote of 5 to 2. Board members are the only people empowered to make the change.
“I don’t want my daughter, or any student, going to a school named under those circumstances,” Richmond writes on the petition’s Web page. “This is a bad look for Florida—with so much racial division in our state, renaming Forrest High would be a step toward healing.”
All seven members of the board received a letter from the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan urging them not to consider a name-change. It calls the school’s namesake a “valiant man of honor,” and justifies the KKK as “a group of vigilance to protect defenseless southerners from criminal activities perpetrated against them by Yankee carpet baggers, scalawags, and many bestial blacks and other criminal elements out for revenge or just taking part in criminal mischief.”
One school board member spoke out against the letter, saying, “At first I thought it might be some sort of a gag or political stunt and then as I looked into it, I found out that it was an actual organization … I was outraged by it.”
The school’s superintendent, Dr. Nikolai Vitti, agrees. “I don’t think it sends the right message to the African-American community. I also don’t think it represents what we want to be as Jacksonville,” he said.
Vitti plans on opening up town hall community discussions this month about the school’s name.