A Florida high school that for 54 years has borne the name of a leader of the Ku Klux Klan is to be renamed, officials said.
The Nathan Bedford Forrest High School in Jacksonville, Fla., where more than half the students are black, will change its name from that of the man who allegedly was the Ku Klux Klan's first grand wizard.
A new name will be proposed in January.
"We recognize that we cannot and are not seeking to erase history," said Constance Hall, a board member for the Duval County school, which was founded 54 years ago.
"For too long and too many, this name has represented the opposite of unity, respect, and equality," Hall said in a statement.
Forrest was an innovative cavalry leader and a lieutenant general in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. He joined the Ku Klux Klan after the war; there remains a dispute over his role.
With its roots in the Civil War era, the Ku Klux Klan has long been associated with hooded, white-robed night riders who menaced blacks with cross burnings, lynchings and other acts of violence.
The honoring of Confederate heroes and emblems has been a divisive issue in the United States, with proponents saying it pays homage to regional history and opponents saying it amounts to racism.
Memphis, Tenn., in February this year dropped Confederate names from three city parks. One was named after Forrest.
Omotayo Richmond, who moved to Jacksonville from New York, wrote in a Change.org petition that garnered more than 160,000 signatures in support of changing the school's name that doing so would go toward healing "so much racial division" in Florida.
"African American Jacksonville students shouldn't have to attend a high school named for someone who slaughtered and terrorized their ancestors one more school year," Richmond wrote.
The 1,300-student public school, which became racially integrated in 1971, had voted some five years ago to keep the name, but those officials had been replaced, the petition said.
First published December 17 2013, 5:07 AM