In naming her son Forrest, Mama Gump intended to remind him that sometimes people do things that just don't make any sense. In 1959, when administrators in Jacksonville, Fla. decided to use that same namesake and christen the new Nathan Bedford Forrest High School, they proved her point. Now, once again Jacksonville residents aim to undo the mistakes of the past and free the school from the shadow of one man's deplorable legacy by giving it a new name.
Nathan Bedford Forrest, a confederate general in the Civil War, was known for his military expertise and cunning. At the age of 21, he became a planter and slave trader. His success prompted his initial entry into the Army in order to protect the southern way of life. After the war, Forrest got involved with the recently-created Ku Klux Klan (KKK), and was quickly elected its Grand Wizard, the highest ranking official in the organization.
Although not necessarily by his direct design, under his leadership the KKK quickly devolved into an aggressive and violent group whose primary goal was the subjugation of newly freed African-Americans. While Forrest eventually ordered the disbanding of the original KKK and sought to distance himself from the organization, the seeds he sowed left an undeniable and indelible mark on American society.
Nathan Bedford Forrest wasn't chosen as this school's namesake because of his military expertise. He wasn't chosen for his business acumen. He wasn't chosen for his philanthropic pursuits, his excellence in education, and certainly not for his fashion sense.
He was chosen because of his capacity for hatred. For his eagerness to harm others in pursuit of success. For his willingness to execute Black prisoners of war, and because he represented the ideals and values of a segregated and unequal society.
Richmond's effort to rename the N.B. Forrest High School is not the first; a previous attempt was struck down in 2008. This time, like the last, those seeking to hold onto any remaining vestiges of a racist legacy have voiced their protest. The KKK has sent letters of protest to members of the school board urging them to refrain from changing the name. Ultimately, however, for a school with an black student population of over 50%, a black Principal, and a completely different attitude and outlook than it had 54 years ago, a name change is sorely needed. In Richmond's own words, "Naming a public high school for so divisive a figure is a relic of a bygone era – a legacy that must be actively rejected."
Well put. Now let's get it done.