A Florida high school named after one of the founders of the Ku Klux Klan announced it would change its name on Monday.* The Nathan Bedford Forrest High School in Jacksonville was named after the first “grand wizard” of the white supremacist group, who was also a former slave trader and general in the Confederate army during the Civil War.
In 2007 and 2008, the school board voted against changing the school’s name, each time the vote split along color lines, according to NPR. Coupled with changing demographics, the effort to rename the school picked up momentum this year when local resident Omotayo Richmond created an online petition. “The school got its name in 1959, when white civic leaders wanted to protest a court decision that called for integrating public schools,” Richmond wrote in his petition. "I don't want my daughter, or any student, going to a school named under those circumstances. This is a bad look for Florida -- with so much racial division in our state, renaming Forrest High would be a step toward healing.”
The school is currently home to 1,300 students and after becoming racially integrated in 1971, today more than 60 percent of the students are black, according to school officials. The online petition got 160,000 signatures and on Monday the school board voted unanimously to change the name of the high school before the start of the 2014 school year.
“It is clear that the Nathan B. Forrest name represents disparate views that have led to a cloud of divisiveness that we have had an opportunity to address and remove today,” Dr. Nikolai P. Vitti, Superintendent of Duval County Public Schools said in a statement. “I am convinced that my recommendation and the board’s decision will move Jacksonville and the school district forward and allow us to focus on what matters most – student achievement.”
*Correction, Dec. 17, 2013: This post previously misspelled Ku Klux Klan.