Thursday night’s town hall at Mandarin High School started out as a discussion of the school district’s $1.7 billion dollar budget but ended with people arguing for and against changing the name of Forrest High School.
The school is named for Nathan Bedford Forrest, Confederate General and 1st Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan. Joan Cooper graduated from Forrest in 1970. She says she feels strongly enough about keeping the name that she made the drive across town to have her voice heard.
“I actually live two miles from Forrest and I’m still in that district and my son actually went there as well," she said. This was a major hike for me. I don’t like coming across the bridges like that.”
Cooper says she’s talked to between 400 and 500 Forrest High School alumni and they all favor retaining the name. She says she’d rather the district take the money that would be spent on new stationery, signage and the like and spend it on things students actually need.
Proponents of the name change included 67 year old Wells Todd who moved to Jacksonville from Missouri 10 years ago. Todd says it goes against the grain for a school to bear the name of a former slave-holder, especially since that school is now predominantly African American.
“So you have people come here tonight who (say) you’ve got to keep the name, you’ve got to keep the name. It’s our tradition," Todd said. Was lynching a tradition? Tar and feathering a tradition? Dragging people onto chain gangs a tradition? Economic exploitation a tradition?”
Names are labels, Todd argued, and this label needs to go.
Duval County School Board member Jason Fischer hosted the town hall at Mandarin High School. After his budget presentation and a short discussion, Fischer opened the floor to comments about Forrest High School.
“Probably not the best venue for it (but) I think there will be more opportunities potentially in the future for that,” he said.
Fischer says it’s important to let the process play out.
The school board and the superintendent have asked board member Dr. Connie Hall, who represents District 5, where Forrest High School is located, to find out what that community thinks about changing the name.
Fischer says the board doesn’t plan to do anything until Hall reports back to them, probably at the end of the month.