After I finished at J. D., I enrolled at Nathan Bedford Forrest High School. Our chief rival in football was Robert E. Lee High School. Sports were big at Forrest. We had good football and basketball teams and many early school day pep rallies.
The pep rallies were popular. We would stand quietly as The Star Spangled Banner was played. Then the band would break into Dixie and the crowd went wild. Now I went to three different high schools and ten schools in all during my early life and so I was something of a particpant observer to all of this. I did wonder how black students felt about this glorification of the Old South but I didn’t interview them about it.
Nathan Bedford Forrest was a Confederate general who was reported to have killed black Union soldiers after they surrendered. He went on to become the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.
Forrest High School reportedly got its name because the Daughters of the Confederacy pushed for it. Other folks, including students, wanted to call it Valhalla High School. Wikipedia tells me that Valhalla is Old Norse for “hall of the slain.”
It also brings to mind Richard Wagner who appears to have had some odd notions about racial purity. In 2014 Forrest High School was renamed Westside High School. This might bring to mind the popular Broadway musical except that nothing about Jacksonville ever reminded anyone of New York City.
There is one other interesting fact. These pep rallies featured another song that students adored—Night Train. It was written by Jimmie Forrest and recorded by many people including Duke Ellington and James Brown.
It's Brown's version that you'll find below: