JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A petition to change the name of a mostly black Jacksonville high school named after a Ku Klux Klan grand wizard has gathered nearly 90,000 signatures.
Omotayo Richmond's petition on Change.org asks Duval Public Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti to change the name of Nathan B. Forrest High School.
Richmond says it's troubling that a school where more than half the students are black is named "for someone who would have kept their ancestors enslaved.''
Forrest was a plantation owner and salve trader.
Some accounts accuse him of ordering black prisoners to be massacred after a Confederate army victory. The newly formed Klan elected Forrest as its honorary Grand Wizard in 1867, though he denied involvement.
Forrest led the Klan from 1867 to 1869. Some historians think Forrest was one of the Klan's founders.
Confederates worshiped him as a hero.
In 1999 the school board voted to keep the school's name after its basketball coach said it was oppressive to the school's diverse students, the Florida Times Union reported.
Forrest High got its name in 1959, when the Daughters of the Confederacy, angry about the Supreme Court's 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision forcing school integration, pushed for the name.
All 2,300 of the school's students were white at the time. Now, 54 percent are black, and some feel it's time to change the school's name.
In 2006 the Duval County School Board voted 5 to 2 against changing the name. The five members who voted to keep the name were white. The two who voted against it were the board's only black members.
Changing the school's name was brought before the board and the board put off a vote, said Brenda Priestly Jackson, who voted "no" with board chairwoman Brenda Burney.
"I have had citizens in the city who are African-American and white in the city who are appalled at the vote," Jackson said.
"The sad irony for me was that here [we are] on the eve of one of the most pivotal elections in our country in which we had an African-American and a woman on different tickets… and we're sitting here for six hours talking about whether or not we would keep the name of the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan on the school," Jackson said.