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Thursday, 10 June 2010

University of Texas poised to re-title dormitory named for KKK leader (USA)

A college dorm named after a notorious Ku Klux Klan leader has officials at a Texas university in a tizzy.
Simkins Residence Hall, an all-male dormitory at the University of Texas at Austin, was named for beloved law professor and Confederate War veteran William Stewart Simkins, who spent over 30 years mentoring students before his death in 1929.

But it also turns out that Simkins is the co-founder of the Florida branch of the KKK, and university administrators are looking to see if his legacy should be erased.

In March, former UT law professor and historian Thomas Russell cast a harsh spotlight on Simkins with the online publication of an academic paper delving into his violent background.

After serving in the Confederate Army where he was even rumored to have fired the first shot of the Civil War, Simkins moved to Florida and organized the local Klan chapter with his brother. Russell writes that Simkins - who described himself as the Florida Klan leader — claimed he never drew blood but did openly speak of having assaulting freed blacks.

The university has responded by assembling a 19-member panel that will meet for the first time Thursday to deliberate on whether the dorm should be given a new scandal-free name.

According to the Houston Chronicle, the panel, which includes students, faculty, staff members, alumni and civic leaders, will meet roughly four times before making its recommendation to UT President William Powers Jr. at the end of June.
These meetings, headed by UT's vice president for diversity, Gregory Vincent, will be closed to the public.

Russell hypothesizes, reports the Post & Courier, that the university originally named the dorm for Simkins as a calculated move in protest of the Supreme Court's landmark "Brown v. Board of Education" decision in 1954, which pushed UT to begin integration. The dorm opened just one year later in 1955.

So how did the name last this long? Over the years, Russell says, Simkins' white supremacist history faded from memory and instead he gained a reputation as "colorful and eccentric."

In fact, according to the Post and Courier, naive UT students used to rub a bust of the professor for good luck on their way into exams.

NY Daily News