AUSTIN, Texas (June 1) -- In 1954, the University of Texas named a dorm after William Stewart Simkins, who taught law there for three decades. Simkins has been dead for more than 80 years but now his past -- as a leader of the Ku Klux Klan -- has come back to haunt the school.
The disclosure of Simkins' past in a recently published article has the UT administration considering whether to remove his name from the dorm -- Simkins Residence Hall.
William Stewart Simkins fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War and taught law at the University of Texas.
"Simkins was a mask-wearing coward, a night-riding Klansman who admitted committing violence against freed slaves," legal historian Tom Russell told AOL News.
Russell, a former UT law professor, wrote the scholarly article, which was published on March 22 in the online journal, Social Science Network. Russell currently teaches at the University of Denver. His article describes Simkins as a Klansman who boasted to UT students about his activities and how he assaulted African-Americans.
In a May 10 editorial in the campus newspaper, Russell called for UT President William Powers to remove Simkins' name from the dorm.
The Texas NAACP, which has been at odds with UT over racial matters in the past, and some students also want to see the name removed.
"Having his name on that dormitory is highly offensive," said Gary Bledsoe, the NAACP president and an attorney who is a graduate of UT's law school. "One of my former roommates used to live in that dorm, but at that time we didn't know anything about the person who it was named after."
Pre-med student Uwana Akpan said she heard about the Simkins controversy through a Facebook posting.
"We have a small number of minorities on campus and even a smaller number of African-Americans," Akpan said.. "It would be slap in the face to have a dorm named after a member of an organization that has terrorized our people."
The disclosure about Simkins comes during a time the university has been engaged in efforts to improve minority relations and overcome its past history of racial exclusion.
"We want to have a climate that is welcoming, inclusive and representative of all of the people at the university," Leslie Blair, spokesperson of UT's Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, told AOL News.
African-Americans make up nearly 4 percent of the faculty and 4.5 percent of the student population, according to figures provided by Blair. One-third of the new hires are from minority groups, she said.
Blair said that Powers has placed the division in charge of forming a panel to review the dormitory matter and make a recommendation to him by the end of the month. A meeting of the multicultural panel is planned for June 10. She said that the Board of Regents will have the final say over whether the dorm will be renamed.
Russell told AOL News that his article was written to examine the methods used to exclude African-Americans from UT. In it he discussed UT's policy of segregation before and after the U.S. Supreme Court's 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling that outlawed segregation in schools.
The article mentions the historic lawsuit filed in 1946 by postal worker Herman Sweatt, who was denied admission to the law school. Sweatt won the lawsuit in 1950. He enrolled, but he left the following year after enduring cross burnings, threats and racial taunts by faculty and students.
Simkins was a Confederate colonel during the Civil War and taught at the School of Law from 1899 until he died in 1929, according to records Russell reviewed. At the end of the war, Simkins and his brother Eldred, who later became a member of the UT System Board of Regents, organized the Klan in Florida during Reconstruction.
In 1914, Simkins gave a Thanksgiving Day speech extolling Klan "virtues," to the students. He claimed that he never "drew blood" as a Klansman but boasted about whipping a black man with a "barrel stave" and how he tried to ambush and beat another who was a minister.
A faculty committee, according to Russell's article, omitted references about Simkins' Klan activities to the Board of Regents when they recommended that the dormitory be named in his honor.
Russell said that he did not take a position about Simkins in his article, but expressed his personal views in the editorial that he was invited to write for the campus newspaper.
In his editorial, he described Simkins as a "Klan terrorist," and accused the faculty committee of "whitewashing his past," by deliberately omitting his Klan history to the Regents board in 1954.
News about Simkins' past comes too late for Jacoby Eaton, a senior who is studying social work and African-American studies. Eaton said he lived at the dorm throughout his freshman year in 2007 without a clue about who Simkins really was.
"This gives me an eerie feeling," Eaton said. "I feel like I should have been told."