U. of Texas Regents Strike Off Klan Leader's Name From Dormitory

July 15, 2010

The University of Texas system's Board of Regents voted unanimously on Thursday to erase a painful reminder of the past by removing the name of a Ku Klux Klan leader and former law professor from a dormitory on the flagship campus here.

President William Powers Jr. recommended last Friday that the regents follow the suggestion of a 21-member review panel and rename Simkins Hall as Creekside Residence Hall.

The new name, which takes effect immediately, refers to the building's proximity to a creek that runs through the campus.

The two-story brick dormitory, which was built in 1954, had been named for William Stewart Simkins, a law professor at Texas from 1899 until his death, in 1929. Mr. Simkins, who was a colonel in the Confederate Army, helped organize the Klan in Florida after the Civil War.

During his 30 years at Texas, he wrote and spoke freely about having participated in violence against black people, university officials said.

A park adjacent to the dormitory was named for his brother, Eldred J. Simkins, a regent of the Texas system from 1882 to 1896 who also had ties to the Klan. The regents on Thursday also voted to rename that park as Creekside Park.

The history of the building's namesake came to light this past spring, when a former Texas law professor, Thomas D. Russell, wrote a paper that was published online by the University of Denver, where he now teaches.

"When I wrote the paper, I hoped to prompt a conversation about race and history and law, but I had no idea how widespread it would become," he said in an interview.

The motion to rename the building was made by Printice L. Gary, a member of the board.

"From time to time we are reminded of ugly periods in our nation's history regarding civil rights," said Mr. Gary, who is black. "The history behind the name is not in line with today's University of Texas and its core values."

Mr. Russell said that when he approached the University of Texas administration, in 1999, to suggest that the building be renamed, "the provost's office brushed me off, saying the university was going to tear the building down soon anyway."

Mr. Russell said that when colleagues asked why he had waited so long to publish his article, he replied, "I was waiting for Twitter to be invented." Discussions on social-media networks like Twitter have prompted a re-examination of similar naming controversies on other campuses, he said.