In Jacksonville, FL, there is a high school named after the founder of the Ku Klux Klan, Nathan Bedford Forrest. The school was named that in 1959 in protest of public school integration, but times have progressed since, and a petition with over 150,000 signatures was submitted to the Duval County School Board requesting the name be changed.

Omotayo Richmond, parent of a student, started the petition.

“I don’t want my daughter, or any student, going to a school named under those circumstances,” said Richmond. “This is a bad look for Florida – with so much racial division in our state, renaming Forrest High would be a step toward healing.”

There was already one motion to change the name in 2008. However, school board members voted to keep the name in a 5-2 margin, but the five majority votes weren’t even board members, said Richmond.

Despite overwhelming support to change the school’s name, a chapter of the KKK has launched an effort to retain it. Last month, the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan sent a letter to the county school board “asking them not to bow to pressure.” Some on the board thought the letter was a joke.

The letter sent by the KKK based its position on the argument that the media basically misconstrued the origin and founding of the group.

“Many say it was to deny the newly emancipated blacks of their rights, and I am sure that there were some men who embraced that concept, but the Klan was born primarily as a fraternity and quickly evolved into a group of vigilance to protect defenseless southerners from criminal activities perpetrated against them by Yankee carpet baggers, scalawags, and many bestial blacks and other criminal elements out of revenge or just taking part in criminal mischief,” stated the letter.  

The KKK was only a “fraternity” for a very short time. It wasn’t long until the group took to harassing and terrorizing blacks and white Republicans with threats and violence. They didn’t protect from criminal acts, they instigated them.

In 1864, after the Union surrender at Fort Pillow, TN., Forrest is thought to have orchestrated the slaughter of captured black Union soldiers and white Union loyalists.

Despite historical fact, as well as lore, indicting Forrest of leading violence and war crimes, the KKK tried to claim that Richmond defamed Forrest’s character as one who “enslaved, slaughtered and disenfranchised blacks in America.”

Nathan Bedford Forrest High School in Jacksonville has a mostly black student population.

Josh is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire. Follow him on Twitter @dnJdeli.