School board members were met with a standing ovation Monday night when they finally voted to remove the name of a Confederate general from a Jacksonville, Florida, high school.
The Duval County School Board voted unanimously to change the name of Nathan Bedford Forrest High School, which was chosen in 1959 by white civic leaders to protest court orders to integrate public schools.
The change was spurred by students, who gathered signatures for a petition drive and urged school officials to make the change.
“We need to make today about honoring the future, which is our children,” said school board member Jason Fischer.
The school board voted 5-2 in 2008 to keep the name, which honors the former slave trader and Ku Klux Klan founder, but none of those board members currently serve.
A KKK chapter from Missouri sent a letter in September begging the current board not to change the name, saying that Forrest and the organization he helped found after the Civil War were not necessarily racist.
“The Klan was born primarily as a fraternity and quickly evolved into 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,” read the letter, which was sent from the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said he has always supported the name change, and he’s ready to remove it from the building and sports team uniforms.
“Now that the board has spoken, I believe it’s time to re-engage the community on what the name should be and if there should be donations to pay for the cost,” Vitti said.
He said community members have pledged to offset the $400,000 cost of changing uniforms for the sports teams – which compete under the Confederate Rebels nickname — and other items at the school.
Vitti said he will distribute ballots this week to students, asking them to choose from two potential school names — Westside High and Firestone High.
Alumni and nearby residents may cast votes at the school from Thursday through Saturday, and Vitti said he hopes a new school name will be chosen by the next scheduled school board meeting on Jan. 7.
Another Nathan Bedford Forrest High School operates just south of Nashville, Tenn.
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