Mmmboppin’ with Scott Hansen: My name’s Forrest

Renee Rosenow

I am sure the number of people who actually knew who Nathan Bedford Forrest rose drastically in 1994 when “Forrest Gump” was released.

If you recall from having seen the movie, Nathan Bedford Forrest was a member of the Ku Klux Klan and a Confederate soldier. He was the inspiration for the name of the film’s title character because the two were actually related. Additionally, Forrest Gump’s mom wanted the name to remind her son that “sometimes we all do things that, well, just don’t make no sense.”

But for those living in Duval County in Florida, the name was something they were familiar with well before the release of the critically-acclaimed movie.

Back in 1950, an all-white school opened in the county and was named Nathan Bedford Forrest High School. Its name was suggested by the Daughters of the Confederacy, who saw it as a protest to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that eventually integrated the nation’s public schools.

According to an Associated Press article, a Florida school board recently voted to keep the name at the now-majority black high school, despite opposition from a black board member who said the school’s namesake was a “terrorist and racist.” The issue has come up several times during the past half-century, but the school board has never changed the name.

After hearing about three hours of public comments, Duval County School Board members voted 5-2 to retain the name. The board’s two black members cast the only votes to change the name, despite the fact that many of the 140 people crowded into the meeting room urged a name change, saying the Forrest name was an insult.

Looking at the situation, I am not surprised that the name was not changed as a result of the school board’s vote. I would tend to believe, unfortunately, that there are slightly more people that would like to keep the name and the stigma that goes with it just to show the school’s overwhelming number of black students who is boss.

What I am shocked about however is the fact that not a single white board member voted to have the name changed. Not a single white board member took it upon themselves to do their job and represent the best interests of the students attending the schools they are making decisions for.

In the article, the five white board members cite many reasons for their decision, one being the real Forrest isn’t known because of how long ago he lived. Another said doing away with the name erases the South’s history, and some actually felt the perception of Forrest is just flat out wrong despite the documented proof that he amassed his fortune and fame through the slave trade and plantation ownership. I can’t fault the board members for citing these as their reasons, because unfortunately they are going to end up working, as wrong as they may be.

But the white board members will continuously use these ridiculous arguments until more black members get on the school board and change things. Obviously at least five out of the 140 individuals crowded into the meeting room were black, and although the article doesn’t indicate how many of them were, I would venture to guess quite a few. I find it just as obvious that of those few, at least five of them would be competent enough to get on the school board and get the name of the school changed.

It is unfortunate that in this particular case the white board members are clearly perpetuating the segregation of races in their educational system. But until more black members of that community step up and get on the board, the segregation and name will persist.

The school board serves as an outlet for the improvement of education. By getting an all-black school board the students of the school district could see this improvement and a name change, and they would see what they can do when they set their minds to it.

By having 140 individuals show up to a meeting, see the result and then accept it, a message is being sent. Students will see this and think that nothing can be done and the name will be kept and the racial divide perpetuated.

But by having individuals fight to get on the board and then getting the name changed, a much better message will be sent. It will show these students they do have a voice and they don’t have to sit back and accept the hand that is dealt to them. It will show black people, despite a common misconception, have the ability to band together and change things. They can be the difference they want to see in the world as long as they work for it.

Those outraged by the decision of the current school board have an obligation to take it upon themselves to change the name. By sitting back and letting things continue, they are perpetuating the problem just as much as the name of the school is. Actions speak louder than words, or in this case the name of the school. Hopefully these students get to see those actions somewhere in the near future.

Hansen is a junior print journalism major and editorial editor of The Spectator. “Mmmboppin’ with Scott Hansen” appears every Thursday.