Friday, May 21, 2010

Russell, on the legacy of segregation at the University of Texas

This spring, Thomas Russell, University of Denver Sturm College of Law, posted a paper: `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. We usually hope our papers will have an impact, and often that simply means we hope that someone will download it, read it, find it of value, maybe even cite to it. But Tom may have set a new standard for the impact of an SSRN paper. The paper has been discussed in news articles on Austin News and The Statesman (Austin), and featured in an op-ed by The Daily Texan.

Here's the abstract:
The paper's title is a quotation from The University of Texas registrar nine days after the decision in Brown v. Board of Education. This paper examines 20th-century techniques of racial domination at The University of Texas by crosscutting two narratives.

The first narrative that the paper presents is one of the development of bureaucratic or institutional forms of racial exclusion. The paper describes the university's efforts to limit the application of the Brown v. Board of Education.

In the immediate years after the United States Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education, The University of Texas developed and instituted entrance exams that university officials knew would exclude a disproportionate number of African-American applicants. Publicly, the university presented the testing as race-neutral. The university stalled post-Brown integration until the exclusionary admissions testing was in place.

An explicit concern of the university in seeking to exclude African-American students during the 1950s was a racialized sexual concern about the university's white women.

The second narrative is the story of William Stewart Simkins, a law professor at The University of Texas from 1899 to 1929. 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.

Like the university registrar during the 1950s, 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.

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. The dormitory carries his name to the present day. 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.

The sources for the paper are drawn largely from primary materials of the university's archives, including the papers of the university's Board of Regents, Chancellor, President, and faculty committees. The author completed this research during the 1990s while a member of The University of Texas School of Law faculty.
Tom followed with an open letter to UT-Austin President William Powers, asking him to remove the name of Klansman William Stewart Simkins from a campus dormitory.

The Daily Texan wrote in its editorial:
Despite Simkins’ involvement with the Klan, the Faculty Council christened the dormitory “Simkins Hall” in 1954 — ironically, as Russell points out — five weeks after the Supreme Court’s ruling on Brown v. Board of Education.

Now, in 2010, it seems unconscionable that UT would stand behind the dorm’s name, but officials are less than excited about the prospect of a name change....

There’s a difference between being honest about our history and honoring a notorious racist with a dormitory — and it seems entirely reasonable to dishonor such a dishonorable man.
Here's coverage of this story -- and Tom's SSRN paper -- on KXAN television.

Photos: African-American college students protest segregation at the University of Texas, Austin, April 27, 1949; Portrait of Simkins (from Russell's SSRN paper); Simkins Hall.