Dorm That Honors Klansman Sparks Debate
By Erik Rush
"While controversy brews over the whether or not the University of Texas will change the name of a campus dormitory that honored a late law professor and Ku Klux Klan leader, many in America are mourning the passing of Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV), who was also a Klan leader. It is, in my view, the height of hypocrisy on the part of Democrats and the establishment press that, for five decades, little was ever mentioned on the subject of Byrd's racism, and that black Americans including our president have felt comfortable serving in the same party, and in the Senate, alongside a man with such an odious background." - Erik Rush
(The Wall Street Journal) - The University of Texas is grappling with whether to change the name of a campus dormitory here that for 55 years has honored a late law professor and Ku Klux Klan leader.
The squat all-male dorm near UT Austin's law school bears the name of William Stewart Simkins, a UT law professor for 30 years until his death in 1929. He and his brother helped form the Ku Klux Klan in Florida after the Civil War.
A final public forum to discuss changing the building's name is being held on campus Monday, organized by a 21-member advisory committee that will make a recommendation to UT President Williams Powers by the end of the month.
A decision to change the name would have to be approved by the university's regents, who aren't bound to follow the recommendation.
Mr. Simkins delivered frequent speeches on campus in which he spoke of the violence he committed as a Klansman during the Reconstruction Era, according to Thomas D. Russell, a legal historian and former professor at UT who now teaches at the University of Denver.
In a speech printed in the university's alumni magazine in 1916, for example, Prof. Simkins talked about whipping a "darkey" who had allegedly insulted a white woman.
Last month, Mr. Russell distributed a paper he wrote on Mr. Simkins's past to attendees of an annual symposium honoring the first African-American to attend the university's law school.
The paper caught the eye of a local television station and helped spur a campus-wide discussion of how to reconcile the university's segregationist past with the diversity-driven goals of its present.
At a meeting on the matter last week attended by dozens of students, professors and Austin residents, speakers generally agreed that the name of the dorm should be changed.
"There is an argument that to change the name would be rewriting history," said Chris Ferguson, a junior who is studying architecture.
But, Mr. Ferguson added, "regardless of the time period in which he lived and the historical context, this was a horrible human being not worthy of the honor of having a building named for him."
Dave Player, a UT senior and associate editor of The Daily Texan, UT, Austin's student newspaper, wrote a column opposing the name change, arguing that if the university decided to remove Simkins's name, it would be erasing a part of its history.
"The university can't run from its own history; you can't wish away the transgressions of those that came before us," Mr. Player said in an interview.
Gregory Vincent, UT's vice president for diversity and community engagement, said that what opposition he has heard to removing Mr. Simkins's name stems from a desire to respect the process that led faculty members to vote for naming the dorm after him 55 years ago.
But, Dr. Vincent said, the university is pondering whether the dorm's name blemishes the school's reputation and compromises the public trust.
Mr. Russell questions the legitimacy of the initial naming. He believes that Prof. Simkins's Klan activities, which were omitted from the recommendation that reached the voting faculty committee, were left out deliberately.
Mr. Vincent said there was no evidence to prove that the information was or was not deliberately omitted.
UT decided to name a building for Prof. Simkins the same year as the U.S. Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision, which ended legalized segregation, and came as the university was still fighting integration efforts.
The Simkins case comes as some members of the UT community already have criticized the number of prominent statues and portraits of Confederate leaders that adorn the campus.
But both Mr. Russell and Dr. Vincent draw a distinction between members of the Confederacy and members of the Klu Klux Klan.
Mr. Russell argued that Prof. Simkins was not simply a man who represented a prevalent racist view at the time, but rather a violent man who attacked newly freed slaves.
Whatever the decision on Simkins Residence Hall, Dr. Vincent said that the university would use the controversy to educate the campus about UT's history.
"No matter what happens," he said, "I do believe that we are going to use this as an educational opportunity of where UT is and where it was as a university."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Born in New York City in 1961, from 1975 to 1985 columnist and author Erik Rush was a club, stage and studio musician. He's also been involved in biomedical research, sales, marketing and media production.
Rush was the first to break the story of President (then Senator) Barack Obama's ties to militant Chicago preacher Rev. Jeremiah Wright on a national level in February of 2007.
He writes columns of sociopolitical fare for WorldNetDaily as well as dozens of nationally-distributed print and online news sources. He's appeared on Fox News, CNN, and is a veteran of a copious number of radio appearances and speaking engagements.