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Board votes to change name of UT dorm named for Klan member

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • The dorm and park name changes are effective immediately
  • They were named after brothers who had ties to the Ku Klux Klan after the Civil War
  • Controversy arose after an article was published on William Simkins
  • The University of Texas president asked the Board of Regents to change the names

(CNN) -- The Texas Board of Regents voted unanimously Thursday to change the name of Simkins Residence Hall, a University of Texas at Austin dormitory named after a man prominent in the Ku Klux Klan in the 1800s, the state university system said.

"Creekside Residence Hall and Creekside Park will replace the current names of Simkins Hall and Simkins Park, respectively," the University of Texas System said in a written statement. The new names refer to a creek that runs nearby.

"The new names are effective immediately and the campus will install new signage as soon as possible," the statement said.

University President William Powers Jr. asked the board to rename the dorm following a recommendation from a 21-member advisory group.

The dorm was built in the 1950s to house male law and graduate students. It was named for William Stewart Simkins, who taught at the University of Texas at Austin's law school from 1899 until his death in 1929, the university system statement said. The adjacent park was named for William Simkins' brother, Eldred J. Simkins, a former member of the system Board of Regents.

"Both Simkins brothers had ties to the Ku Klux Klan after the Civil War," the statement said.

Earlier this year, former University of Texas law professor Tom Russell published a research article on Simkins. In the article, Russell claimed that university officials named the dorm after the Klan member to intimidate African-Americans after the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision that integrated schools, Brown v. Board of Education.

"Professor Simkins helped to organize the Ku Klux Klan in Florida at the conclusion of the American Civil War, and he advocated his Klan past to Texas students," said Russell, now teaching at the University of Denver's Sturm College of Law.

"During the 1950s, the memory and history of Professor Simkins supported the university's resistance to integration. As the university faced pressure to admit African-American students, the university's faculty council voted to name a dormitory after the Klansman and law professor," Russell wrote.

"During this time period, alumni also presented the law school with a portrait of Professor Simkins. Portraits and a bust of Professor Simkins occupied prominent positions within the law school through the 1990s," he said.

Gregory Vincent, the university's vice president of diversity and community engagement, told CNN affiliate KXAN earlier this week that naming a public building after a self-proclaimed racist compromised the university's image.

"We're certainly not erasing Professor Simkins from the annals of UT history," said Vincent. "All we are saying is that honorific is a very special designation and it should not harm the university's reputation."

CNN's Ashley Hayes and Helena de Moura contributed to this report.