Thursday, July 15, 2010

Racism Double Standard - A Bit Different

I don't know how much national attention this has gotten, but locally, it's been big.

The University of Texas (UT) in Austin stripped the name of a prominent law professor from a 55 year old building on campus. Simkins Hall was named after William Stewart Simkins, who taught at the UT Law School from 1899 to 1929. The building was build in 1954, and named after Simkins at that point.

The building has been renamed Creekside Residence Hall. Workers were photographed sawing down "Simkins Hall' signs - signs that had graffitti sprayed on them.

The rushed manner of this renaming was due to internet research that determined that Professor Simkins had been a member of the KKK. He was an unabashed racist, and did not try to hide it. Of course, back in his day, being a member of the KKK did not carry the stigma it has in the last 40 years.

Now, I don't have any problem with this. Simkins has been proven to be a racist. It is a shame that his name graced this building in a place of honor for 55 years. Good ridance.

My problem is the double standard shown in how Simkins' name has been treated in relation to how Senator Robert Byrd's name was treated (before and after his death).

Robert Byrd (D-WV) was the longest serving member in the Senate at the time of his death. He was widely hailed as a learned, cerebral Senator. The NAACP heavily endorsed Byrd, even though he voted against the Civil Rights act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Byrd was an acknowledged member of the KKK, eventually gaining the top office of his local chapter (The Grand Cyclops).

Robert Byrd wrote to MS Senator Theodore Bilbo in 1944:

"I shall never fight in the Armed Forces with Negro at my side... Rather I should die a thousand times, and see Old Glory trampled in the dirt never to rise gain, than to see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels , a throwback to the blackest specimin from the wilds."

My God, how disgusting is that? I don't care if he wrote it a half century before, it still is disgusting. If Byrd was a Republican, do you think he'd be forgiven those words?

According to a Wiki search, Robert Byrd has at least the following named in his honor:

31 academic, research, or technology facilites
4 commerce and community centers
4 government buildings
2 hospitals
3 recreational facilities
11 transportation related facilities/projects

In addition, there are at least 11 facilities carrying his wife's name.

My question is - why is Byrd's name not being stripped off of all of these facilities in disgrace?

I acknowledge the fact that Simkins was apparently a devout racist until the day he died. Robert Byrd publicly apologized and distanced himself from his racist past. But can he be forgiven to the point of being such a reverred figure? In my mind, the answer is no.

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