UT History Matters in Affirmative Action Case

The University of Texas must overcome a history of racism.

(Special to The Root) --Within five weeks of the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education outlawing segregation, the University of Texas named its newest dormitory in honor of Col. William Simkins, a law-school professor from 1899 to 1929. Prior to joining UT's faculty, Simkins organized a Ku Klux Klan chapter in Florida that murdered 25 former slaves in the years following emancipation. While at UT, Simkins delivered well-received annual lectures in which he bragged about exploits as "a criminal and a terrorist, a gun-toting, mask-wearing, night-riding Klansman."

This week the Supreme Court will hear Fisher v. University of Texas, a case challenging UT's affirmative action program. The Supreme Court has said: "Context matters when reviewing race-based governmental action under the Equal Protection Clause." When the court addresses affirmative action at a public Southern university for the first time, the context of its being in a Confederate state with a prominent history of state-sanctioned racial animus must be squarely confronted. Advancement Project's friend-of-the-court brief (pdf) details how the state's and the university's racist histories still pervade the Austin campus.

The university's action in naming a noted dormitory for an avowed criminal symbolized the culture of the university for the next 55 years. It took at least two decades after Brown before more than a very few black students even gained admission to UT.
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(Photo: University of Texas)

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