By Michael Pearson
(CNN) — Fifty-four years after the Duval County, Florida, school board ignored the wishes of students and named a Jacksonville high school for a controversial Confederate general, the school will be getting a new name.
The school board voted 7-0 Monday to change the name of Nathan B. Forrest High School after the current school year ends. Officials will choose between the names Westside and Firestone in January.
When it was opened in 1959, in the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision that required racially integrated public schools, district officials chose to name the school after Forrest — a former slave trader and Confederate commander whose troops were involved in the massacre of black Union soldiers at a Tennessee fort.
He later served as the first “Grand Wizard” of the Ku Klux Klan.
“For too long and too many, this name has represented the opposite of unity, respect, and equality — all that we expect in Duval schools,” board member Constance Hall said in a statement from the district.
The name-change was spearheaded by parent Ty Richmond, whose Change.org petition amassed 162,150 signatures.
“I’m very encouraged. Jacksonville is too much of a beautiful city to have that ugly blemish,” Richmond told CNN affiliate WAWS.
“I don’t want my daughter, or any student, going to a school named under those circumstances,” he said in his petition. “This is a bad look for Florida — with so much racial division in our state, renaming Forrest High would be a step toward healing.”
At the time it was named, the segregated school had an all-white student body. It is now 62% black, 23% white and 9% Hispanic, according to the district.
Still, the decision to strip the name was not universally popular. More than half of the faculty opposed the change, as did 36% of students, the district said.
A Missouri KKK leader also protested the change, saying those who want the name changed are ignoring “the true historical facts surrounding this valiant man of honor.”
Bedford fans have noted the commander’s widespread reputation as a military genius, and have long said he was misunderstood. They say he disbanded the first version of the Ku Klux Klan after it grew violent and argue that he made efforts to reconcile with blacks in his later years.
He is the subject of numerous monuments and other efforts to preserve his memory across the South.
A monument honoring Forrest has been the subject of long-running controversy in Selma, Alabama, a focal point of the civil rights movement. The monument was located in a city building for a while but moved to a city-owned cemetery following protests.
In 2012, someone stole Forrest’s bust from atop the monument. Efforts to refurbish the monument have resulted in disputes.
In 2011, a Mississippi proposal to create a license plate honoring Forrest brought opposition by civil rights groups and never saw the light of day.
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