In “Romeo and Juliet,” William Shakespeare’s protagonist asked, “What’s in a name?” Now that’s something the people of Jacksonville, Fla., no longer have to worry about. After a 7-0 vote at a Duval County school board meeting Monday, Nathan Bedford Forrest High School will be no more. It’s a name that many people associate with slavery, Civil War crimes and racism — but now the name will no longer be attached to the school, Jacksonville.com (the Florida Times-Union) reported.
Though it’s a start, the name change won’t go through just yet. The seniors of 2014 will be the last class to graduate from Nathan B. Forrest as the school’s new title will officially go through on July 1. The new name hasn’t been decided on yet, but the news site reported the board members voted to consider suggestions from residents and students.
Both sides were heard from during a 90-minute discussion before the school board. Many called the Confederate general's name divisive in a community where nearly half of the people are African American.
Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told Jacksonville.com that 64 percent of students wanted the name change to go through, while 34 percent did not. But in a poll of alumni, 93 percent of 339 people surveyed wanted the high school to continue to be called Nathan B. Forrest. (The student body used to be all white.) Vitti added that people who wanted to keep the name the same were in favor of preserving community traditions and maintain historic references.
“It is time for Jacksonville to move on,” Vitti said. “I’m not in a position to judge Nathan B. Forrest, but undeniably the Nathan B. Forrest name has divided this community.”
Students are thinking about naming the school West Side High or Firestone High, which is the name of the street that it’s on. On Tuesday and Wednesday at school, students will vote for the name they prefer. Thursday through Saturday, alumni and residents will have a chance to cast their votes at the school.
Forrest (1821-1877), a self-made Tennessean, was a wealthy slave trader and owner in Memphis before the Civil War. He was one of the Confederacy's most effective commanders but also was accused of massacring hundreds of black Union soldiers after they surrendered at Fort Pillow in 1864. After the war, he was one of the first leaders of the Ku Klux Klan.
Change.org gathered 160,000 signatures for an online petition calling for the name change.