University of Texas Dormitory Named After KKK Leader

                          Univerity of Texas at Austin

The importance and significance of history is critically important. In fact it is so important that we lose sight of it’s impact in our daily ventures and take it for granted. In Atlanta for example, many do not know that the area of town called Buckhead obtained its name because that is where black were taken to be lynched. At the University of Texas in Austin, it has just been revealed to the student body that one of the Universities dormitories was named after a major figure in the Ku Klux Klan – William Stewart Simkins.

The dormitory named after Simkins was constructed in 1954. His history in Texas and with the University were well known. After the Civil War, he passed the bar and moved to Texas in 1873 where he practiced law until the mid 1880s. He eventually started a law practice with his brother in Dallas in 1885 which lasted until 1899. From 1899 to 1929 William Stewart Simkins served as a professor of law at the university and became professor emeritus in 1923. He is remembered for giving a large portion of his private law library to the University.

Although he has been dead for more than 80 years, the hidden truth that he was a leader of the KKK has come back to place a dark cloud over the University. 

William Stewart Simkins was born in Edgefield, South Carolina August 25, 1842 and fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War. In 1856, he enrolled at the Citadel military academy. History records that he was involved in the attack on Union forces at Fort Sumter in 1861 and was commissioned a first lieutenant of artillery in the Confederate Army. Near the end of the Civil war, he surrendered while serving as a colonel under General Joseph E. Johnston. After the war and prior to moving to Texas, he and his brother moved to Florida where they founded the States KKK.

Now University Officials are trying to decide if they should change the name of the edifice in his honor, after a recent article written by legal historian Tom Russell of the University of Denver Sturm College of Law was published on Simkins. The paper titled ‘Keep the Negroes Out of Most Classes Where There Are a Large Number of Girls: The Unseen Power of the Ku Klux Klan and Standardized Testing at The University of Texas, 1899-1999.’

In the abstract, Russell a former UT law professor, wrote “Professor Simkins was explicitly concerned with the sexual defense of white women. Relying upon the analysis of historian Grace Elizabeth Hale, the paper links Professor Simkins’s advocacy of the Klan to the early 20th century history of lynching and white supremacist violence.” In addition the abstracts states “Professor Simkins supported the university’s resistance to integration. As the university faced pressure to admit African-American students.” The Texas NAACP and some students desire to have the name of the dormitory changed. African Americans comprise approximately 4 percent of the faculty and 5 percent of the student population.

It’s strange how even at institutions of higher learning, information such as this is not actively sought out. It is readily available, even on the University Texas housing web site which gives all of the background and historical information on the residence halls. It even mentions Simkins founding of the Floridian KKK. However, it requires a compassion for pedagogy that a large corpus of students — in particular African Americans — do not evince, for we know America’s history is one of prejudice and discrimination. This is just one example of how racist attititudes are venerated in America as well as how much many really know or understand about history. torrance stephens, ph.d.
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