FLORIDA: School District Will Rename High School Named for KKK leader

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Following a petition drive that garnered more than 160,000 signatures, a Florida school district will rename a high school whose current name commemorates a Confederate general and the first “grand wizard” of the Ku Klux Klan.

Mathan Bedford Forrest

Mathan Bedford Forrest

Nathan B. Forrest High School in Jacksonville will soon be known as something else after the community made clear to the Duval County Public School Board that they wanted the school changed. The board voted unanimously Monday night to remove the Forrest name.

How did the school get that name?  When it opened in 1959, an organization called the Daughters of the Confederacy pushed for the Forrest name despite a number of other noncontroversial names that were under discussion, including the student favorite, Valhalla High School. In 2007 the School Advisory Council asked the school board to change the name but it refused by a 5-2 vote. Since then, membership on the panel has changed.

At the school board meeting Monday night, Supt. Nikolai Vitti said:

If you look at the history of the naming of Nathan B. Forrest High School, the students originally wanted the school to be named Valhalla. Politics reigned and as a response to desegregation and the civil rights movement, the school was named Nathan B. Forrest. That was not the will of the students, and considering the opinion of the students in this process, I think it is an opportunity to give voice to students whose voices were not heard in the beginning and can certainly be heard now.

Today, more than half of the school’s students are African American. The Change.orgpetition to change the name was written by Jacksonville resident Omotayo Richmond, who wrote in part:

I moved to Jacksonville from Long Island 12 years ago. Since then, I’ve put down roots here. I’ve helped raise a beautiful daughter here. This place is my home now, and the people who live here deserve better than a high school named for the first Grand Wizard of the KKK.

That’s right, Jacksonville is home to Nathan Bedford Forrest High School, named in honor of a Confederate general who infamously slaughtered Black Union soldiers who’d already surrendered and who was a founding member of the original Ku Klux Klan. The school got its name in 1959, when white civic leaders wanted to protest a court decision that called for integrating public schools.

I don’t want my daughter, or any student, going to a school named under those circumstances. This is a bad look for Florida — with so much racial division in our state, renaming Forrest High would be a step toward healing…

After the petition drive began, an “imperial kaltrop” of the KKK wrote a letter urgingthe board to keep the name.

I previously published the text of a letter from a woman named Susan Wittenberg Case, who said she was at at the meeting back in 1959 and described what happened. Here it is again:

Your short article about this petition couldn’t begin to explain the controversy surrounding the naming of this school in the fall of 1959. The school opened without a name and we were packed in like sardines from 7th through 12th grades. I and my brother were in the 7th and 8th grade and we were so excited to learn that we students were going to choose the name of the school, the colors, and the football team’s name. A vigorous campaign ensued with proposed names being put up on the board and lively discussions taking place. I remember one proposed name was “Oak Lawn” and the team could be the “Acorns.” That name died a well-deserved death, however, when it was pointed out that Oak Lawn was a more appropriate name for a cemetery or a nursing home.

The name that captivated us all and won hands-down was Valhalla High. The team name was the Vikings and colors were orange and white. The boys all liked the idea of the great and fearless Viking warriors and we girls were enthralled with the idea that Valhalla was the name for the Viking heaven. The football jerseys had all been ordered, signs were going up, supplies ordered, logos printed. We were all excitedly awaiting the first game of the season in our brand new junior-senior high school.

A meeting was called and when my parents returned that night I can still see their angry faces. My mother could barely contain her scorn and outrage as she described how the UDC (United Daughters of the Confederacy)had pushed through their own agenda to rename MY school after the slave-running drunkard and Ku Klux Klan leader, Nathan Forrest. The team name was the Rebels, and colors were red and grey. We even had a flag now, the old confederate cross. Officially, the school was now General Nathan Bedford Forrest Junior-Senior High School.

Everyone was in an uproar. You should know that many, many of the students were from military families, as I was, and our identity was to the United States primarily, and not to the failed Confederacy or to the south in general. But even the “civilian” kids were angry. We all felt betrayed. We WERE betrayed. Our vote and voice had been stripped away and something really ugly had been inflicted upon us. It took a long time to feel any sense of loyalty to the school and all these years later, I still have contempt for the old biddies of the UDC.

I’d still like to see the name Valhalla resurrected somehow. Valhalla High Vikings has a nice ring to it. But then, what about all the peoples that were terrorized by those fierce sea-faring Norsemen? *sigh* Okay, Oak Lawn it is, then.

It looks like Susan Case may get her wish.

-Florida Times-Union


FLORIDA: Council Withdraws Bill Leasing Armory to Sons of Confederate Veterans

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Jacksonville City Council withdrew a bill Tuesday that would have leased the former National Guard Armory Building to the local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

The bill faced the prospect of defeat. Withdrawing the bill means City Council member Kimberly Daniels, who introduced it, won’t have to wait a year to try again. She said she plans to refile the bill immediately to fight another day.

National Guard Armory, Jacksonville.

National Guard Armory, Jacksonville.

In another closely watched project in the downtown area, the council approved a contract amendment clearing the way for the developers of 220 Riverside to get $2.6 million from the city for construction of Unity Plaza.

The council voted 17-1 for the amendment after that documents provided Tuesday night to the council would be sufficient to show the developers are investing at least $30 million in the 220 Riverside project, which features a seven-story apartment complex.

Unity Plaza will be a park with an amphitheater able to hold about 2,000 spectators in tiered seating and on grassy sides.

At issue was what type of documents would be acceptable to the city to comply with a previously executed contract between the city and Hallmark Partners. Daniels voted against the contract amendment. She said she wanted more time to review the documents, which included a construction change order showing a price of $30.8 million for the project.

Other council members were satisfied the developer is meeting its end of the deal and said 220 Riverside promises to be a catalyst for more downtown-area development.

But on the matter of leasing the abandoned armory building, council members balked at inking a deal with the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Kirby-Smith Camp 1209.

The city-owned two-story building, located at 851 N. Market St., was built during World War I and used for military purposes until 1973. The city hasn’t occupied the flood-damaged building since the parks and recreation department moved out of it in 2000.

Daniels and City Councilman Reggie Brown said the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Kirby-Smith Camp 1209 deserves an opportunity to renovate the building after the group was the only organization that responded in 2011 to the city’s request for ideas about using the building.

“I think personally that we are doing this organization a grave injustice,” Brown said.

He said the group is interested in doing what the city has failed to do. The city “has no plans for the building,” he said. “There is nothing.”

City Councilman Bill Bishop agreed it’s the city’s fault the building has fallen into a deteriorating state.

“Shame on all of us,” he said of the neglect.

But he said he couldn’t support leasing the building to Kirby-Smith Camp 1209 or a coalition of arts groups that expressed interest this year because neither group has shown financially viable plans for the multimillion dollar renovation expenses.

“Where is the plan?” said City Councilman Warren Jones. “How will it be renovated?”

He said neighborhoods in the area of the old armory building haven’t been part of the process in deciding how to use the building.

City Councilman Johnny Gaffney, whose district contains the armory building, said the process has been flawed and the city should reopen consideration of all organizations interested in using the building.

“I think it should go to the best organization,” he said.

Daniels said she thinks the Sons of the Confederate Veterans have faced an unspoken “stigma” that has blocked council members from supporting the bill.

She read aloud a volunteer service award given by President Barack Obama to the Kirby-Smith Camp 1209 for its civic work.

“It’s a confirmation that they deserve better than they’ve been treated,” Daniels said.

-Florida Times-Union


NORTH CAROLINA: Sons of Confederate Veterans Conserve Battle Flag at Museum of History

RALEIGH, N.C. —  On Nov. 21, 2013, members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Camp 379 in Marion, presented an $8,200 check to staff at the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh. The funds will be used for specialized conservation treatment of a battle flag carried by the 35th Regiment North Carolina Troops during the Civil War. The generous gift was the result of two years of fund-raising by Camp 379.



“It is an honor for Camp 379 to help preserve a part of North Carolina’s important history for future generations,” noted Jeff Cordell, Commander, North Carolina Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Camp 379.

The historic banner is part of the museum’s Confederate flag collection, one of the largest in the nation. The standard wool-bunting state flag is missing its regimental numbers, possibly cut away as a souvenir during the war.

-Beach Carolina Magazine


VIRGINIA: Museum of Confederacy Announces Move to Unpopular Reception

VIENNA, Va. —  After weeks of rumors, gossip and discussion, the Museum of the Confederacy (MOC) has made a formal announcement that they will leave their long-term premises on Clay Street in Richmond, Virginia for a new location on the banks of the James River on the historic site of Tredegar Iron Works.

MOC President Waite Rawls has fielded accusations and various unpleasantries from the public for the last few weeks, and already social media and web lists are expressing their displeasure.

Photo: The Museum of the Confederacy (MOC)

Photo: The Museum of the Confederacy (MOC)

The MOC will join forces with the American Civil War Center (ACWC) with the intent of creating a new Civil War Museum, which will embody the largest collection of artifacts, flags, papers and other items in the country. The ACWC is headed by President Christy Coleman. She and Rawls will serve as co-CEOs of the new entity which has yet to be named.

The MOC has been totally landlocked over the past 10 years through the encroachment of the Medical College of Virginia (MCV), which has made it increasingly inaccessible to visitors while providing no space for the museum to grow. Lacking space for its massive holdings, the MOC first opened a satellite museum in Appomattox, Virginia, and two more were anticipated to open in other areas of the state.

Then, behind closed doors and with more secrecy than many people thought was proper, the MOC and ACWC began negotiations for a plan that would benefit both organizations and enhance the James River site.

There were serious concerns. Moving from their long time home in downtown Richmond made the MOC feel their whole identity was being savaged. The idea of moving to a new site and being “just another museum” or entity out of many was not a popular notion.

Some arguments were both rancorous and slightly ridiculous. There is a statue depicting Abraham Lincoln and his son Tad sitting on a park bench at the Tredegar site, and “the very idea” of these two individuals being situated in any proximity to the MOC was regarded by some as beyond belief.

The statue in question came about because the fund-raising body that supported it did so without any idea as to where it was going to be erected and found no one who thought it belonged anywhere. Sculptor David Frech of Newburgh, New York, was commissioned by The United States Historical Society of Richmond to commemorate the historic arrival of President Lincoln and Tad and their tour of the partially burnt-out, Union-captured Richmond on Tuesday, April 4, 1865, one month after the President’s Second Inaugural Address and 10 days before his assassination.

Its present location was simply the only folks who decided to give it a home could come up with, a classic case of the the cart having been placed ahead of the horse.

The notion of making the new site a premier, pre-eminent spot in the country for Civil War holdings failed to take other areas and and long-existing groups into account.

On the good side of the ledger, rather than trying to continue with their satellite plan ideas, this gives the MOC a “place to be,” and bring an immediate end to a longstanding problem caused by the constant incursion of MCV’s ongoing expansion plans.

At heart, the basic problem with the MOC as well as the memorial building owned and built by the United Daughters of the Confederacy—equally land-locked by an adjoining museum which even took the UDC’s parking lot for expansion—has been the practice of many of these organizations to agree to a “footprint of the building” ownership of land. When they begin life locked into a small space, the expansion possibility is a lost cause ab initio.

This new organization on the James River will embark on a $30 million project, of which $20 million has already been committed. Not content with this beginning association, there are ongoing discussions with the Virginia Historical Society (VHS) which will attempt to preserve and digitize all of the paper archival matters, such a letters, diaries, books and photographs  of the MOC. VHS has always been a stellar entity with extremely good archival capabilities, and it is hoped these will go far in an effort to preserve these records and artifacts for all time.

If all that were not sufficient, the National Park Service’s (NPS‘) Richmond Visitor Center, also has a presence in the new location. The banks of the James River may never be the same.

In the meantime, it is hoped that the various historical groups and their holdings will adopt a “live and let live” attitude which could well be of benefit to all three (or four or five.)

Time will tell the story.

Read more of Martha’s columns at The Civil War at the Communities at the Washington Times. Follow her on Face Book or LinkedIn at Martha Boltz, and by email atMBoltz2846@aol.com

-The Washington Post


VIRGINIA: New Civil War Graffiti Found

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Every inch of the Graffiti House in Brandy Station is historic — even the bathroom.

During a recent study by architectural conservator Chris Mills, new Civil War-era artwork was found in the circa 1858 structure believed to have been used as a hospital by Confederate and Union forces during the war.

Brandy Station Foundation President Joe McKinney points to new graffiti found at the Graffiti House bathroom recently.

Brandy Station Foundation President Joe McKinney points to new graffiti found at the Graffiti House bathroom recently.

For unknown reasons, patrons decided to mark up the walls with signatures, drawings and anything else that crossed their minds. Mills ’ challenge is to remove the post-historic paint and whitewash that subsequent owner’s attempted to cover the markings with, as well as stabilize the fragile plaster.

The newly uncovered graffiti was discovered in a crawl space under the stairs, painstakingly revealed by Mills — according to Brandy Station Foundation President Joe McKinney.

The name on the wall says Hollingsworth, 11th “something,” McKinney said.

After discovering that bit of artwork, Mills and McKinney pondered if more could be hidden in the vicinity.

That’s when Mills took out an razor blade and cut out a chunk of modern drywall in the bathroom.

Sure enough, under the modern plaster was more Civil War graffiti.

“Chris will cut out the plaster and see what we’ve got,” McKinney said. “We’re going to have to raise more money.”

McKinney pointed out that the house never ceases to amaze him.

“It’s exciting to see there’s still more (graffiti),” McKinney said.

It also enhances the learning value of the house.

“Going to the bathroom is going to be a learning experience for people,” McKinney said with a chuckle.

For more information about the Brandy Station Foundation or the Graffiti House, visit http://www.brandystationfoundation.com or contact  McKinney at 540-727-7718.

-The Daily Progress