Robert Montgomerie: Renaming Forrest School Meeting

November 7, 2013 17 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Robert Montgomerie reports on behalf of the Jacksonville Progressive Coalition after the School Board public hearing to change the name of Nathan Bedford Forrest High School.

Duval County School Board Meeting - November 5th, 2013

Approximately 40 people came out, standing in the crisp gale of the early evening, waving signs to communicate their support of this issue to oncoming traffic.

In the rain a contingent of the Jacksonville Progressive Coalition met at 5:00 P.M. in front of the Duval County School Board to voice their support of changing the name of Nathan Bedford Forrest High School.

They were a diverse crowd from many backgrounds but all were there for one purpose: to convince the School Board to call a vote to rename the school. Lance Stoll, an adjunct professor, brought over 1500 surveys to the meeting, compiled in mostly a singlehanded effort, and presented them at the meeting giving a rousing speech to the board calling for change. Wells Todd opened up for the JPC, as the third speaker in line, on behalf of the group, asking some very important questions about why Jacksonville would want to have a school name after the first Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan knowing what the organization represents. Mr Todd also expanded upon an interview done earlier that morning on News4Jax posing the question, "Why would Jacksonville want a school named after a known slave trader and murder."

Several other members came up to speak. Many of the younger members gave spirited, factual information about the man Nathan Bedford Forrest was, that the school was voted originally to be named Valhalla High School before the Daughters of the Confederacy lobbied to reverse that in  1959, and that it is wrong to associate hate with heritage as the representatives looked on. Dave Schneider, a representative of both the Jacksonville Progressive Coalition and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, gave a thunderous speech with appeals to reason and calling on them to correct the errors of the past. Suzanne Snurpus reasoned that as a parent it is important to send the right message to our children who will have to live in diverse world in the future while Elanor Wilson pointed out that, although she had relatives who were Confederate soldiers, that, as a southerner, it is important to respect what is good about southern heritage and character and naming schools after people like Forrest does not reflect that idea.

On the other side, were people who were interested in maintaning the name for different reasons. the first speaker of the night established their tone by bring up the point that the name of the school is not important and that educating the children is. James Whittingham of the Museum of Southern History came forth denouncing the arguments against the renaming effort as attempts to change the history of the city and that Forrest was actually a civil rights leader of sorts.

A Mrs Higginbotham denounced the proponents as "rabble rousers" who were trying to change her southern history, even going so far as to mention that, "although Ed White is named after an astronaut, no astronauts have come from Ed White and although Robert E Lee High School is named after a general, no generals came from Lee High School.

I took it that a name doesn't imply that someone who attends will aspire to take on the occupation of the namesake. In this case, presumably, the Ku Klux Klan.

Others (including an individual who took it to another level with racial epithets and was removed), spoke complaining about how the neighborhood has changed from being an "upper middle class neighborhood" to a crime ridden ghetto, and how the school resembles the neighborhood.

A couple of other people came forward introducing themselves as "professional historians" with one exhibiting Confederate Army medals claiming that they were issued by Forrest to African-Americans with no evidence to confirm, or deny, the claim when asked later.

The School Board gave equal time to both viewpoints and decided to call a vote Friday, November 8th (which is tomorrow, at the time of this publishing) to decide whether or not to rename Nathan Bedford Forrest High School. The name has been controversial since the school's founding and will continue to be so.

The school has maintained a consistently low performance report over the past few years, as have many other schools in Jacksonville's declining neighborhoods, and, though it is obvious changing the name will not reverse that tide, it is the hope of those in the Jacksonville Progressive Coalition that a new name will provide the beginnings of a fresh start that may lead to reversing that tide, and that a new name will knock down a few walls built a long time ago and bring our community closer to building a city that is inclusive to all in the future.