UT president recommends dumping Klansman’s name
Regents will consider call for new moniker on Simkins Residence Hall
Simkins Residence Hall, named for a Florida Ku Klux Klan member, should be renamed something more neutral, University of Texas President William Powers Jr. said in a statement Friday.
Powers’ decision follows weeks of deliberation by a 21-member advisory group about whether to rename the dormitory. Powers said he would suggest renaming the residence hall and the adjacent park Creekside Dormitory and Creekside Park at the meeting Thursday of the UT System Board of Regents, which must approve the action.
The formerly all-male dorm, built in the 1950s to house law and graduate students, sits near Waller Creek.
Simkins taught at the School of Law from 1899 until his death in 1929. But before that he was a Confederate colonel during the Civil War, and afterward, he had ties to the Ku Klux Klan. He said in a Thanksgiving Day speech on campus in 1914 and in an article two years later in the Alcalde, the alumni magazine, that he never
Continued from A drew blood as a Klansman.
But Simkins admitted assaulting a black man, participating in a train robbery and sowing fear in Florida’s “black belt” as a masked night rider.
“The immediate effect upon the Negro was wonderful, the flitting to and fro of masked horses and faces struck terror to the race,” Simkins wrote.
Reassessing the residence hall name came up in May after the American-Statesman asked university administrators about the name following the release of a scholarly article examining Simkins’ record.
The article, written by Tom Russell, a former UT law professor who works at the University of Denver, was posted in an online journal, the Social Science Research Network. The article detailed the resistance by UT administrators and regents to integration in the 1950s and 1960s despite two landmark U.S. Supreme Court rulings against segregation.
“Simkins engaged in illegal, terrorist behavior during Reconstruction and doesn’t merit having a building carrying his name,” Russell said in an interview at the time.
Powers’ decision is in line with the recommendation made by the advisory group, which started meeting in June. The group held four meetings, and gathered input through e-mail and two public forums co-sponsored by the Student Government.
Gregory Vincent, UT’s vice president for diversity and engagement, formed the advisory group of faculty members, students, staff members, alumni and civic leaders at Powers’ request.
“The university’s current naming policy addresses renaming in cases when the name compromises public trust and the university’s reputation,” Vincent said in a statement. “In light of these guidelines, the advisory group strongly believes that renaming is the proper course of action.”
In the announcement Friday, Powers said: “I value and appreciate the consultative process that led to this decision and the engagement of the community, students, faculty, staff and alumni in this issue. An institution like ours is shaped by its history, but it need not be encumbered by it.”
Reached by phone Friday, Russell was effusive in his response to the news. “Most academic writing drops into the sea like a pebble,” he said. “I’ve been, frankly, flattered by all the attention that my paper has gotten, and I’m very pleased it has led to this excellent outcome.”
Russell said that while Simkins’ past had been wellknown for years, he believes it was the power of social media and blogging that elevated the issue and spread it quickly across the nation.
“I’m pleased with President Powers’ decision, and I support this idea of just naming the dorm generically,” Russell said. “The university will stop honoring an undeserving criminal by renaming it. … People have acted as if because his name is on the building that we can’t continue to talk about his history. People have argued that it’s erasing history, but it’s not.”
Analysa Cantu, a 21-yearold advertising major at UT, joked that both the proposed name and the previous name were lacking something: “They could both be better.”
On a more serious note, Cantu added: “A dorm is a dorm no matter what its name is. But the name should be appropriate.”
Kaylan Hunt rides past Simkins Residence Hall, whose namesake engaged in a train robbery and raids on black communities after the Civil War.