Minority Issues, Racism, Texas

UT’s KKK Dorm Name Change Is up to the Board of Regents

A couple of months ago, we brought you the story of Simkins Residence Hall at the University of Texas. The dorm is named in honor of a former UT law professor — a professor who was a Ku Klux Klan leader and organizer. University officials claim they only became aware of Simkins’s KKK past when former UT law professor Tom Russell did some research.

After months of debate, a 21-member advisory group has recommended that UT change the name of the dorm. The proposal will now go up to UT’s Board of Regents. CNN reports:

Gregory Vincent, the university’s vice president of diversity and community engagement, told CNN affiliate KXAN that naming a public building after a self-proclaimed racist compromised the university’s image.

“We’re certainly not erasing Professor Simkins from the annals of UT history,” said Vincent. “All we are saying is that honorific is a very special designation and it should not harm the university’s reputation.”

Sorry Klansmen and Klan sympathizers, Texas needs y’all to be a little less prominent…

You have to hand it to CNN. They went out and found at least one UT student — a college senior, not a law student — who was willing to go on the record with an entirely ridiculous statement:

Jillian Underwood, a UT senior, told KXAN [a CNN affiliate] that the name swap could create more controversy.

“There are Confederate names on buildings here, so are we going to draw the line on the KKK, or are we going to take it all the way and get rid of everything? That would significantly change the campus,” she said.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that it’s entirely appropriate to draw a big, bright line between the Confederacy and the KKK. This student does a disservice to the Confederacy to equate (misguided, generally racist) confederate heroes with the terrorist assholes who started and supported the Ku Klux Klan.

The more interesting question is: at what point did University officials know about Simkins’s KKK connections? The spin coming out of UT has been that Professor Russell’s paper about Simkins was a revelation to the administration. Perhaps it was. But at some point in the 1950s, when UT Law decided to put this man’s name on a dorm, they damn well knew who they were honoring and why:

Published early this year, Russell’s research article claimed that UT officials named the dorm in the 1950s after a Klan member as another way to intimidate African-Americans after the U.S. Supreme Court decision, Brown vs. Board of Education…

“During the 1950s, the memory and history of Professor Simkins supported the university’s resistance to integration. As the university faced pressure to admit African-American students, the university’s faculty council voted to name a dormitory after the Klansman and law professor,” Russell wrote.

So are we supposed to believe that the institutional memory of UT is so addled that they couldn’t even collectively remember what they did 60 years ago? Nobody at Texas had any idea that this dorm was named after a Klansman?

Let’s ask the question another way. At what point did the UT administration “forget” that they named a dorm after a Klansman? Let’s assume they still knew what they were doing in 1956, when UT Austin was finally integrated. Had the administration forgotten about Simkins by 1969, when the Longhorns became the last all-white college football team to win a national championship? Surely by the 1970s there were people who (a) remembered that they named a dorm after a Klansman and (b) didn’t see a problem with that.

Maybe all of the people who were directly responsible are dead and gone. But at some point prior to 20 freaking 10 somebody out there should have figured this out. It shouldn’t have taken a random law professor to remind Texas about its own recent history.

On the positive side, if the Board of Regents approves the name change, Texas won’t risk making another Simkins mistake:

If approved by board members, the building will be renamed Creekside Dormitory, for a creek that runs nearby, university officials said.

As Muhammad Ali might have said (if he was a legal blogger writing in a PC universe): Ain’t no creek ever called me the N-word.

University of Texas may change dorm name that honors Klansman [CNN]

Earlier: University of Texas Considers Renaming a Dorm Honoring a Klansman Law Professor

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