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 loudly of moral invertebracy in times that seem to call for the opposite attribute.

There’s nothing like picking on the dead.  You can say of them whatever you want, convict them of anything you like.  The accusation can lack (as at UT) context, nuance, and basic fairness.  So what?  The main thing—isn’t it?—is to Set Your Face Against the Tarnished Past.

We know what this is all about.  Beneath the surface of the regents’ mealy-mouthed piety is anxiety that the well-thinking might impute “racism” to the once-segregated University of Texas.  The story line is—to cite the hymn—“I once was lost but now am found; was blind, but now I see.”  And what I see I don’t like.  The name of a Klansman on a dorm—not to mention campus statues of R.E. Lee and Jefferson Davis.  Why, brothers and sisters, we’re just at the start of this cleansing enterprise.

Don’t know much about history, modern students don’t; so, naturally, history lessons involving the late Confederacy are conducted as moral enterprises.  The Klan—never mind the circumstances that prompted its founding, viz., the North’s reduction of the South to captivity—equates in modern minds to the nativist frenzies of the reconstituted, 1920’s Klan.  None of Simkins’ prosecutors accused him of murder or anything like that.  He’d stood against the government—an insurrectionist.  Once, as he latterly recounted, he helped rob a train carrying arms being shipped to black militias.  Pretty lawless for a law professor.

Foiling the federal troops of arms they were going to point at the local population likely sounded like a really good idea at the time.  It can sound plausible even now.  Render a defeated people desperate, and desperate things can happen.  If you’ve ever seen a Robin Hood movie, you sense the irony of arguing for the armored lancers over against the pride and needs of the ragamuffins.

The reason the Sherwood “bandits,” in 1860’s and 70’s terms, get no pass for their exertions is the control King John and his merry men exercise over the media and the universities.  Not to have acceded to the Union’s emancipation program is to have forfeited all title to sympathy.  The American liberal mind views the Confederate and post-Confederate South with the same kind of horror our mainstream culture—rightly, I might add, if somewhat over­industriously—views the Third Reich.  Try producing Birth of a Nation today, Mr. David W. Griffith.  You’d be lucky if we let you cut the film up for banjo picks.

Expecting rational consistency from too many modern liberals is getting to be like waiting for Godot: Better bring your lunch.  Have we noticed it’s also theologically preposterous?  William Stewart Simkins was a sinner, the same as John Brown, Bill Sherman, and even A. Lincoln.  Not to mention Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson.  Victors’ justice is all the Simkins row was ever about: exhibiting moral superiority by jumping up and down on the defenseless dead.  So the English royalists behaved when they dug up and beheaded Cromwell.  There may be more gaps in moral/cultural evolution than are sometimes supposed.