Nathan Bedford Forrest High School To Get New Name


Forrest High School in Jacksonville, Florida

A long-standing dispute in Jacksonville, Florida has ended with the local school board’s unanimous decision to change the name of Nathan Bedford Forrest High School. As in other decisions about how to collectively remember the past, these decisions ought to be left to local communities.

The usual voices will cry foul and describe it as another heritage violation, even as they avoid reflecting on the historical context surrounding the initial naming of the school. The name was chosen in 1959 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy following the Supreme Court’s order to desegregate schools. As Aaron Sheehan-Dean noted in an editorial back in 2007 the choice was part of a wider movement against the court’s decision.

The most important date in this controversy is 1958, the year that the School Board commemorated Forrest by naming a school after him. That act came in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision, which required the desegregation of school facilities across the country. Naming a school after Forrest added insult to the injury already done to black Jacksonville residents by the fact of segregated schools. It stands as a parting shot in the debate over access to public education and should be repudiated today.

Forrest has no direct historical connection to Jacksonville, Florida. The choice was no accident. I suspect that it will be fairly easy to decide on a new name that reflects the collective values of the Jacksonville community. Forrest’s claim on the collective memory of this community likely ended long ago.

No, this hasn’t been a good year for Forrest in the South.

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12 comments… add one
  • ALFRED B HAINES Jun 10, 2015 @ 9:03

    How many people know that Forrest “s great-great grandson, NBF III, died fighting for the USA? He was the first casualty in Europe in a B-17 during WWII. He stayed at the controls of his B-17, so his crew could safely bail out over Nazi Germany.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 10, 2015 @ 9:15

      I did not know this, but why do you think it is important enough to raise in response to a post that has absolutely nothing to do with Nathan Bedford Forrest.

      • ALFRED B HAINES Jun 10, 2015 @ 9:36

        I thought it was significant that a great grandson of a Civil war hero, died a hero fighting for our country. He’s buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

        • Kevin Levin Jun 10, 2015 @ 9:39

          Well, certainly NBF was a hero to some. Thanks for the comment.

  • Evan Kutzler Nov 11, 2013 @ 6:55

    This is, well, a start.

  • Karen Cox Nov 11, 2013 @ 5:55

    Of course the UDC knew what it was doing in naming schools for Confederate heroes (and putting up their portraits in the classrooms, etc.) They wanted to make a point with future generations (i.e. the children in those schools) to defend Confederate principle. It’s good to see this name change occur, especially given its timing. Now, this moment in irony: The Jeff Davis Head Start program in Louisiana.

    • Kevin Levin Nov 11, 2013 @ 6:27

      Hi Karen. Thanks for the link. For those of you interested in the history of the UDC check out Karen’s book, Dixie’s Daughters.

  • Marian Latimer Nov 10, 2013 @ 16:58

    Once upon a time, my naturalized American (Quebec born) mother used to proclaim during obligatory visits to my father’s family in TN that he was related to every third person in the state because every visit there, new relatives seemed to turn up. (No, we were not lottery winners) Imagine my surprise after my mother died and both paternal grandparents were gone, my sister, not the one with a history degree or any real interest in research, discovered a distant relationship to, you guessed it, NBF. She thought this was mildly interesting upon a stopover to waste time on the way to a family reunion at Stones River and was chatting this up with a Park Ranger. She had only seen bits of Ken Burns’ documentary so had no clue. The ranger was duly impressed. I was quick to inform her once we were back in the car that this was not something I would go around bragging about in public. That was the first I’d heard of it. My grandmother’s maiden name was Forrest. She had done the math. My maternal grandmother in Detroit had been very active in Civil Rights in that city during her lifetime. Sheesh.

    Quebec and the Confederacy. I guess I am a natural born sesesh. LOL.

  • Steve Nov 10, 2013 @ 15:16

    Again, PC, ignorance and prejudice wins out! Shame. I would like to see the proof these people had the Nathan Bedford Forest was part of the KKK! There is no documented proof, it is all heresay. The war on the South continues. 150 years ago General Robert E. Lee told his troops to go home and become good citizens, and yet the prejudice continues. No proof needed, if you served the South, you were a slave holding, racist, Klan member. Period! Forget the fact that most Southerns did not own slaves, and less than one percent was the large plantations that is portrayed 100% of the time. Forget the fact it was the U.S. expanding slavery between 1861-1865, with the creation of West Virginia. forget the fact it was Southern States that ratified the 14th amendment. Please do not mention the racial hate put out by W.T. Sherman. Any truly educated person about the South would be offended by the statements of Abe Lincoln, W.T. Sherman and U.S. Grant. It will never happen, the war of bigotry on the South continues, and we will continue to fight back

    • Kevin Levin Nov 10, 2013 @ 15:20

      Absolute nonsense. There is no war on the South. This story is not about the American Civil War, but about opposition to school desegregation. The UDC knew exactly what they were doing when they named the school after Nathan Bedford Forrest and they didn’t do so simply to honor a brave Confederate commander. They likely based their decision on an understanding of history that you so cavalierly choose to ignore.

      • Allen Nov 11, 2013 @ 18:47

        “The UDC knew exactly what they were doing when they named the school after Nathan Bedford Forrest and they didn’t do so simply to honor a brave Confederate commander.” Care to document that assertion?

  • Pat Young Nov 10, 2013 @ 5:21

    I have talked to non-white grads of schools named after Confederate “heroes” and asked about how they felt about going to a school that honored someone like Lee. Usually, I’ve gotten a response along the lines of “It was crazy, but that’s how it is.” They have also acknowledged that since nearly all prominent white Southerners of that generation served the Confederacy, that they were no different than hundreds of thousands of other whites.

    Forrest’s post war career with KKK did not parallel the actions of most other Southern whites. He also could not claim to be protecting an abstraction like states rights since his state never called on him to form the group. And the association of the KKK with terrorism, of course, is the final straw.

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