Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Southern general's name may come off Jacksonville school

JACKSONVILLE — Nathan Bedford Forrest was a millionaire slave trader, a ruthless Confederate general, an early Ku Klux Klan leader — and the namesake of what is now a majority African-American high school.

After almost a two-year delay, the Duval County School Board next week will consider whether to change the name of Nathan Bedford Forrest High School to Firestone High, after the street it sits on. The board joins other Southern districts that have hotly debated whether to strip Confederate leaders' names from schools and other buildings.

The squabble is part of the modern South's never-ending soul searching over the Civil War and its legacy, a discussion that often finds Forrest at the center.

"This guy was a brutal monster," said Steven Stoll, an adjunct sociology instructor at Florida Community College who is white and supports changing the name of the high school. "Why would you want to keep honoring a person like this? It is an insult to black people."

Forrest is hardly the lone Confederate hero whose name adorns streets, buildings and other public projects, or used to. For instance, Robert E. Lee High School in Birmingham, Ala., became Martin Luther King High School.

Still, efforts to strip Confederates' names and take down memorials to them have mostly been thwarted throughout the South, often after being denounced as part of an effort to remove all references to the Confederacy. In Hampton, Va., for example, attempts to rename Robert E. Lee Elementary School and Jefferson Davis Middle School failed.

Some say Forrest's deeds have been exaggerated and have to be considered in the context of the Civil War.

"Forrest was revered all over the world, and his tactics are still studied today," said Lee Millar, president of the General N.B. Forrest Historical Society in Memphis. "He became a hero to all."

Born poor in Chapel Hill, Tenn., in 1821, Forrest amassed a fortune as a plantation owner and slave trader, importing Africans long after the practice had been made illegal. At 40, he enlisted as a private in the Confederate army at the outset of the Civil War, rising to a cavalry general in a year.

Some accounts accuse Forrest of ordering black prisoners to be massacred after a victory at Tennessee's Fort Pillow in 1864, though historians question the validity of the claims.

"He did not order a massacre. He did order wholesale killing, but I do believe he lost control of the battle and there were people killed who should not have been killed," said Brian Steel Wills, a professor at the University of Virginia's College at Wise, who wrote a biography of Forrest.

In 1867, the newly formed Klan elected Forrest its honorary Grand Wizard or national leader, but publicly denied being involved. In 1869, he ordered the Klan to disband because of the members' increasing violence. Two years later, a congressional investigation concluded his involvement had been limited to his attempt to disband it.

After his death in 1877, memorials to him sprung up throughout the South, particularly in Tennessee.

Forrest High School in Jacksonville opened as an all-white school in the 1950s, getting its name at the suggestion of the Daughters of the Confederacy. They saw it as a protest of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that eventually integrated the nation's public schools.

Now, blacks make up more than half of the student body.

Two 17-year-old seniors at the school say the consensus among students is to leave the name alone.

"As students, (the name is) not a big deal to us," said Jamal Freeman, a black student, who noted it would cost a lot to change uniforms for the band and sports teams, nicknamed the Rebels.

Sabrina Lampp, a white student, said a change "takes all the memories away."

Jacksonville has three other schools named after Confederate generals, none as sensitive as Forrest.

"He got a bad rap," said L.A. Hardee, a member of the board at Jacksonville's Museum of Southern History. "He was an honorable man. People don't take into consideration the times. It's a Southern thing. They ought to keep the name."

Southern general's name may come off Jacksonville school 10/28/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 3, 2010 5:42pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Take 2: Some fear Tampa Bay Next transportation plan is TBX redux

    Transportation

    TAMPA — For many, Wednesday's regional transportation meeting was a dose of deja vu.

    The Florida Department of Transportation on Monday announced that it was renaming its controversial Tampa Bay Express plan, also known as TBX. The plan will now be known as Tampa Bay Next, or TBN. But the plan remains the same: spend $60 billion to add 90 miles of toll roads to bay area interstates that are currently free of tolls. [Florida Department of Transportation]
  2. Hailed as 'pioneers,' students from St. Petersburg High's first IB class return 30 years later

    Education

    ST. PETERSBURG — The students came from all over Pinellas County, some enduring hot bus rides to a school far from home. At first, they barely knew what to call themselves. All they knew was that they were in for a challenge.

    Class of 1987 alumni Devin Brown, from left, and D.J. Wagner, world history teacher Samuel Davis and 1987 graduate Milford Chavous chat at their table.
  3. Flower boxes on Fort Harrison in Clearwater to go, traffic pattern to stay

    Roads

    I travel Fort Harrison Avenue in Clearwater often and I've noticed that the travel lanes have been rerouted to allow for what looks like flower boxes that have been painted by children. There are also a few spaces that push the travel lane to the center that have no boxes. Is this a permanent travel lane now? It …

  4. Palm Harbor boat dealer facing litany of complaints of bad deals

    Business

    PALM HARBOR — With an aging father sick in the hospital and a son just graduating high school, Andrew Kashella, in between jobs, knew what he had to do.

    A sign on a front window of Gulf Coast Boat Sales, 37517 Us Highway 19 N, in Palm Harbor, notifies people they are under restructuring  The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office has received 20 complaints against Gulf Coast Boat Sales in Palm Harbor. Complainants say they sold the shop their boats and never got paid and/or paid for boats they never received. Pinellas County Consumer Protection is leading the investigation.
  5. Here's what you need to know before you buy that Groupon vacation deal

    Travel

    There are times in life that call for caution, for using that chunk of money in savings to renovate the bathroom because the bathroom is from 1974, and not in a cool way.

    ALI DOUGLASS   |   Special to the Times