Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Dropping Forrest: New 'Buzz'; Opponents of School's Name Say Jacksonville Will Benefit from Move

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Dropping Forrest: New 'Buzz'; Opponents of School's Name Say Jacksonville Will Benefit from Move

Article excerpt

Byline: Steve Patterson

People who wanted to rename N.B. Forrest High School, used in the 1950s to commemorate a Confederate general and slave trader, were dismayed five years ago when the Duval County School Board said no.

"I had a lot of folks come up to me the day after the vote ... They said 'I just knew it was going pass,'" said Brenda Priestly Jackson, one of just two members who backed the change in 2008.

Monday's about-face decision by a new seven-member board to drop the name that critics called racially divisive has left activists wondering what other changes are possible now.

"This will let the rabid type of racists know that, 'you're done.' ... This is a city that has decided it's moving past that," said Opio Sokoni, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Jacksonville, who organized backers to wave signs supporting the change near the school this month.

Sokoni, a Jacksonville native, said he has seen the decision capture people's attention in the past week, from social media to chatter at a friend's party.

"It's a buzz online everywhere you go," he said. "The buzz was, this was positive, this was good ... People who really don't talk about being proud of their city were talking about pride ... Our children and grandchildren are going to benefit from that."

People are ready for progress in the school system, said Audrey Moran, who ran for mayor of Jacksonville as a Republican in 2011.

"I think there are lots of very positive changes happening in our public school system right now. We have a community that's engaged in the subject of quality public education," said Moran, who spoke in favor of renaming Forrest before the board voted Monday.

"I think we as a community recognize that when there are obstacles in the way ... we need to knock those down," she said.

The controversy around Forrest's name, she said, "was an impediment."

PASSIONATE FACTIONS

That wouldn't make voting to change the name easy, said City Council President Bill Gulliford, who said he saw passionate factions on each side. …

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