Flamboyant William Stewart Simkins, during his professorial heyday at the University of Texas a century ago and more, was known for his long, white mane and his charisma as a teacher of law. He wrote standard textbooks on equity, contracts, and estates. But, dadgum, he took pride all his life (1842-1929) in helping, as an ex-Confederate colonel, to organize and participate in the Florida Ku Klux Klan.
You can guess how sweetly the Simkins name resounds at the university where, for 40 years, he showed off his intellectual firepower.
In July, a priggish UT board of regents, on the say-so of a priggish president newly alerted to the late Professor Simkins’ political convictions, voted to run the old boy out of town on a rail—symbolically, to be sure—ordering his name stricken from the dormitory on which it had been bestowed in the 50’s. A liberal ex-UT law professor had outed Simkins on account of his “illegal, terrorist behavior during Reconstruction.”
I’ll deconstruct that Reconstruction bit in a minute. Just to let you know meanwhile: Duly intimidated if well-meaning Texans murmured, “Well, yes, hmmm, Klan, hmmm, s’pose we can’t have that, hmmm.” Tiny moments sometimes reveal more than large ones do, as to the things humans value and stand—or, alternatively, fall—for. The Simkins affair, if small in itself, speaks...