Allow students to vote on name change
I have always loved history, especially military history. One of my favorite field trips during elementary school was the one my tech school class took to Franklin, Tenn., to visit the site of the 1864 Battle of the Franklin during the U.S. Civil War, or War Between the States.
At the time I didn't realize we were only 30 miles away from the birthplace of Nathan Bedford Forrest, who was born in Chapel Hill, Tenn. The Civil War produced dozens of renowned generals – Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, George Custer and Stonewall Jackson – but Forrest was unique because he wasn't a professionally trained soldier and rose from private to lieutenant general in the Confederate Army.
Forrest, who has 32 historical markers named after him in his home state, chose to enlist despite being a wealthy plantation owner and paid for his regiment's soldiers and horses. He was one of the most successful generals during the war thanks to his mobile cavalry tactics, combat skills and ability to lead troops, which included his slaves after he had offered them freedom in exchange for their military service.
But despite all his military accomplishments, Forrest is probably best known today for his affiliation with the Klu Klux Klan, which was originally founded by six Confederate veterans to oppose Reconstruction.
Today the KKK, which was notorious for their hooded uniforms, burning crosses and lynchings, is a white supremacist organization comprised of independent chapters. The Klan at its peak had 4 million members but is now estimated to have between 5,000 and 8,000 members.
According to historical accounts, the KKK bestowed the title of its first leader-in-chief, or Grand Wizard, to Forrest, who said in a 1868 newspaper interview that he sympathized with the group's "protection against Loyal Leagues and the Grand Army of the Republic." He later claimed he wasn't a Grand Wizard and formally disassociated himself with the Klan in 1869 by ordering it to disband, saying it had "perverted from its original honorable and patriotic purposes, becoming injurious instead of subservient to the public peace."
I've been thinking about all of this because of the 5-2 decision last Monday by the Duval County School Board against changing the name of Nathan Bedford Forrest High School, located in Jacksonville, Fla., which has four high schools named after Confederate generals and others named in honor of civil rights leaders.
Some news accounts have called the formerly all-white school "predominantly black," but the nearly 1,800-student body actually has a 51 percent African-American population, according to publicschoolreview.com.
Personally, I don't think a public high school with any black students should be named after a former slave owner who may or not have been the first Grand Wizard of the KKK. To me, that would be like naming a school with Jewish students after one of Adolf Hitler's military officers.
One person who attended the board meeting was quoted as saying that Forrest was "a terrorist and a racist," while another described him as "a good man" and "military genius."
But I think the school board should do what what's best for the Forrest High students, who attend a school that has received an "F" grade on state assessment tests the past two years. If the name of the school is actually causing a morale problem, as critics of the school's name have suggested, than why not allow the student body to vote on this issue? It's their school, and they should decid whether or not to continue being known as the Forrest High Rebels.