Duval County School Board Member Connie Hall submitted a letter to the board Tuesday night to begin the process of exploring whether to change the name of Nathan B. Forrest High School.
The issue was not on the agenda for the meeting, but it was a passionate point of discussion for dozens of people during the public comment period.
Board Chair Fel Lee had to remind those in the chambers several times to mind their manners as the audience reacted to speakers with applause or laughter.
The issue has garnered attention recently because a Jacksonville resident started an online petition which now has more than 160,000 signatures in support of changing the name. Activist Lance Stoll from the Jacksonville Progressive Coalition presented 1,600 surveys the group collected, and said 92 percent of those polled wanted Forrest’s name removed.
Stoll told the board Nathan Forrest’s role as the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, and the letter written by the KKK this year urging the school board to keep the name are reason enough for the school board to act.
“You can either be on the side of right and justice and the 92 percent of Duval County citizens who want this name changed," he said, "or you can be on the side of the Southern apologists and the KKK."
But a sizable contingent supported keeping the name. That group was mostly made up of Forrest alumni and historians and Civil War buffs. Their main arguments were that the name change is not a priority when the board should be focused on improving the school, and that Forrest wasn’t the villain that modern critics make him out to be.
Daniel Fletcher told the board he’d like to see the name stay to honor Southern history.
“We are slowly losing our Southern symbols," he said.
"Our flags, our leaders, and sadly to say our battlefields. I just would like to see the symbols of the South stay and not be taken away from us."
Board member Connie Hall represents District 5, where Forrest High School is located. Last month she was tasked by the board with gathering information from her constituents about the school’s name. The full board will vote on Friday whether to accept Hall's recommendation and begin the process of exploring a name change
You can follow Karen Feagins on Twitter @karenfeagins