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Florida High School Keeps KKK Founder's Name

A Florida high school named for a Confederate general who was also a leader of the Ku Klux Klan will be keeping its name — thanks to a vote of the county school board.

More than half the students at Nathan Bedford Forrest High School in Jacksonville, Fla., are black, and some members of the community object that they are forced to attend a school that was named in honor of a racist.

Nathan Bedford Forrest was a slave trader before the Civil War, a top-notch Confederate cavalry leader during the war, and the Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan in Tennessee when it was over, according to University of North Carolina-Greensboro emeritus professor Allen Trelease, a Civil War scholar.

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.

On Nov. 3, 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 in 2006, and the board put off a vote for almost two years, said Brenda Priestly Jackson, who voted "no" with board chairwoman Brenda Burney.

Jackson said was surprised to find the issue on the Nov. 3 agenda.

"I was actually in shock when I read the item," she told FOXNews.com. "We had three hours of public comment, and I kid you not, you would have thought you'd gone back to some other place and time."

Jackson called the discussion "revisionist history," and said that Forrest had been known in history for two things: "massacre and the KKK."

Those in favor of keeping the name said Forrest's history was debatable and his involvement with the KKK was minimal.

It was unknown "who the real Forrest is," said board member Tommy Hazouri, who voted to keep the name, the Associated Press reported.

Forrest led the Klan from 1867 to 1869. Some historians think Forrest was one of the Klan's founders.

Confederates, Trelease said, "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.

One member of the community who was happy to see the board stick with Forrest was Billy Parker, the school's first principal.

"I am thrilled to death that the school board voted it down to leave it Nathan Bedford Forrest," said Parker, who served on the county school board for 20 years.

"The thing about it is, Forrest, at the time he was alive, slavery was the thing to do and he was involved in it at the very beginning," he said. "But when the war ended he was one of the strongest ones to do away with slavery, and they never mention that and the fact that he was a good man."

But Jackson says the community needs to revisit the issue. She said if more people had come to speak out, changing the name would have been a "no-brainer."

"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.