AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — University of Texas regents agreed Thursday to strip the name of a former law school professor and early organizer of the Ku Klux Klan from a campus dormitory.
The dorm named after William Stewart Simkins will now be known as Creekside Residence Hall. The two-story brick building was constructed in the 1950s near Waller Creek.
The unanimous vote came after a motion from regent Printice Gary, who is African-American, to make the change.
“From time to time we are reminded of ugly periods in our nation’s history regarding civil rights,” Gary said. “The history behind the name is not in line with today’s University of Texas and its core values.”
Simkins, who was a Confederate colonel, helped organize the Klan in Florida after the Civil War. He taught law at Texas from 1899-1929 and gave speeches and wrote papers promoting the Klan and terrorizing blacks.
Regents also voted to change the name of Simkins Park, a small green space next to the dorm that had been named after Simkins’ brother, Eldred Simkins, who also was involved with the Klan and served on the university board from 1882-1896.
Gregory Vincent, Texas vice president for diversity and community engagement, said the Simkins Hall sign outside the building would likely be removed by the end of Friday.
The name change came after weeks of deliberations by an advisory panel and two public hearings.
The issue sparked 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 U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education decision ended legal segregation.
With wavy white locks and a fondness for chewing tobacco, Simkins was a popular figure on campus and his portrait still hangs in the law school.
In a campus speech in 1914 and an article two years later in the alumni magazine, Simkins said he never drew blood as a Klansman. He did, however, admit to assaulting a black man, participating in a train robbery and sowing fear in Florida’s “black belt” as a masked night rider.
When a white woman in Florida complained of being insulted by a black man, Simkins wrote, “I seized a barrel stave lying near the hotel door and whipped that darkey down the street.”
Vincent said university officials had heard from some, including a Simkins descendent, who wanted to keep the name.
“We’re not erasing professor Simkins from our campus. He is still in our history books,” Vincent said.
Taking his name off the building, however, “is a powerful symbol of the direction of UT-Austin,” Vincent said.