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First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross

Jacksonville Reacts To Forrest High Vote

Cyd Hoskinson

The name of Jacksonville's Nathan Bedford Forrest High School may be changing, but that doesn't mean everyone in the city is happy about it.The continued support for keeping the school named after Forrest — a Confederate general, slave owner, and among the founding leaders of the Ku Klux Klan — was expressed by several people during the public comment of Monday's school board meeting that ended with a unanimous vote to change the name.

WJCT education reporter Cyd Hoskinson and WLRN StateImpact Florida reporter Sammy Mack were both at the meeting. They joined Melissa Ross to discuss the vote, the next step in the process, and speak with listeners, some of whom were not happy with the decision to rename the school.

"I'm just wondering how much longer this is going to go on," said caller Tom on the Westside, asking if the district's other schools named after Confederates, like Robert E. Lee, would be renamed in the near future.

"What the public wants is really going to dictate that," said Cyd Hoskinson, noting that Superintendent Nikola Vitti and the members of the school board said they have not seen calls for other schools to be renamed.

For at least one caller, the prospect of changing all the schools bearing Confederate namesakes was welcomed.

"You can't not get rid of that school," said Mark on the Westside, referring to Robert E. Lee High School. "It's just a no brainer, and the sooner the better I think."

Chris in Jacksonville, a 1988 graduate of Forrest High, called to say he was "very happy" the decades long debate was coming to an end.

"It's about fifty-fifty," he said when asked about the opinion of alumni he has spoken to about the debate.

"For the one's who want to retain the name, I don't think it's motivated by racism, it's just tradition and it's always been named that," he said.

"The names of schools and of public institutions is a reflection of the values of the people in power," said Sammy Mack, referring to an interview she recently conducted with a historian whose study is focused on how public schools are named.

Mack said it seemed like this latest community group who advocated for renaming the school were reacting in large part to how the school gained the controversial name in 1959.

The Forrest name was suggested and advocated for by the Daughters of the Confederacy, which many say was meant as a spiteful gesture in response to the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark 1954 decision to end school segregation in Brown vs. Board of Education.

Brian in Jacksonville took issue with what he described as historical inaccuracies regarding the Ku Klux Klan, claiming the group didn't pursue a racist agenda until the 1950's, despite extensive reporting on the group's anti-black sentiments since it's founding in 1865 by many historians and groups including the Southern Poverty Law Center.

"You really have to go back to how the school was named," Hoskinson said. "Regardless of the Confederate history of the school's name, the more recent 1959 history of the naming of the school is what really stands out."

"I think the key here was that it was a child-centric decision," Hoskinson said of Vitti's decision to recommend changing the name to the board.

Speaking to Mack after the vote, Vitti said the debate was about more than just the name of a school.

"I think it restores faith in part of the community that maybe didn't always feel that we were equitable with our decisions," he said.

You can follow Melissa Ross on Twitter @MelissainJax and Patrick Donges at @patrickhdonges.

Melissa Ross joined WJCT in 2009 with 20 years of experience in broadcasting, including stints in Cincinnati, Chicago, Orlando and Jacksonville. During her career as a television and radio news anchor and reporter, Melissa has won four regional Emmys for news and feature reporting.
Patrick Donges served as WJCT's Digital Content Editor from August 2013 - August 2014.