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Texas rethinks dorm named for Klansman

Associated Press / July 15, 2010

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AUSTIN, Texas — The president of the University of Texas will ask the school’s regents to remove the name of a former professor and Ku Klux Klan member from a campus dormitory.

Simkins Hall, a two-story brick dorm built in the 1950s, is named after William Simkins, who was a popular law school professor in the early part of the 20th century but one with a dubious past. He served as a Confederate fighter and early organizer of the Ku Klux Klan in Florida, promoting the Klan and bragging about efforts to terrorize and harass “darkey’’ in campus speeches and publications.

Texas president William Powers Jr. will ask university regents today to take Simkins’s name off the dorm, a move that comes after weeks of deliberations by an advisory panel and two public hearings. The regents are expected to bring the issue to a vote.

“An institution like ours is shaped by its history, but it need not be encumbered by it,’’ Powers said.

Keeping Simkins’s name on the building “compromises public trust and the university’s reputation,’’ said Gregory Vincent, Texas vice president for diversity and engagement.

The issue flared in May after former Texas law professor Tom Russell published an online article detailing resistance by the university to integration in the 1950s and 1960s.

Texas named the dorm after Simkins in 1954, the same year the US Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education decision ended legal segregation.

“I support 100 percent taking the name off,’’ said Russell, who now teaches law at the University of Denver.

“My goal in writing this paper was to help start a conversation about race and history and law. I will say in regard to that, I’ve succeeded beyond my wildest dreams,’’ he added.

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