Although the Florida school district in Jacksonville, Florida has voted to change the name of Nathan Bedford High School there is still no word on what the new name will be. What follows is Susan Wittenberg Case’s recollection of what took place at the 1959 meeting that led to the school’s naming after Forrest. It’s important to note that the student body voted to name the school, Valhalla High.
The name that captivated us all and won hands-down was Valhalla High. The team name was the Vikings and colors were orange and white. The boys all liked the idea of the great and fearless Viking warriors and we girls were enthralled with the idea that Valhalla was the name for the Viking heaven. The football jerseys had all been ordered, signs were going up, supplies ordered, logos printed. We were all excitedly awaiting the first game of the season in our brand new junior-senior high school.
A meeting was called and when my parents returned that night I can still see their angry faces. My mother could barely contain her scorn and outrage as she described how the UDC (United Daughters of the Confederacy) had pushed through their own agenda to rename MY school after the slave-running drunkard and Ku Klux Klan leader, Nathan Forrest. The team name was the Rebels, and colors were red and grey. We even had a flag now, the old confederate cross. Officially, the school was now General Nathan Bedford Forrest Junior-Senior High School.
Everyone was in an uproar. You should know that many, many of the students were from military families, as I was, and our identity was to the United States primarily, and not to the failed Confederacy or to the south in general. But even the “civilian” kids were angry. We all felt betrayed. We WERE betrayed. Our vote and voice had been stripped away and something really ugly had been inflicted upon us. It took a long time to feel any sense of loyalty to the school and all these years later, I still have contempt for the old biddies of the UDC.