All university tour attendees are told to rub the bronze bust of former university president Ernest Hereford’s head for good luck. Research from the Progressive Student Union president collected over the past month suggests Hereford fostered a campus culture of racial intolerance.
“We don’t want a bunch of middle schoolers going up and rubbing the head of somebody that, ya know, might’ve possibly called them the N-word back in the day,” said Tyrin Prichett, College of Liberal Arts Senator, regarding the student body as a whole.
Hereford became president of the then named Arlington State College in 1949. He served as president until suffering a fatal heart attack in his office in 1958. Now, the University Center bears his name.
Mark Napieralski, the Progessive Student Union’s president, wrote a resolution to remove Hereford’s statue and name from the UC, he said. On Sept. 18, Napieralski asked in Student Senate’s open forum for senators to sponsor the legislation he had written. He also created a petition for students to sign for their support of the removals.
Napieralski said he spent several days researching archival material at the Central Library about Hereford and the campus culture of his tenure.
Prichett said he plans to sponsor the legislation because his African-American heritage and Napieralski’s research.
The archival materials Napieralski used were Hereford’s presidential papers, yearbook photos from the time period, stories in The Shorthorn and a book about the university’s history.
He said he found that during Hereford’s presidency, the Rebel mascot was adopted, the Confederate battle flag was made the school symbol, the Kampus Kadet Klub was a registered student organization and more.
At the time, Arlington State College was an all-white institution existing in a segregated south and part of the conservative A&M System, said Gerald Saxon, history associate professor and author of the book Napieralski researched.
In 1951, Hereford put a group of veteran students in charge of choosing new mascot names. He thought the Blue Riders, the mascot at the time, didn’t invoke enough school spirit, according to Jim McClellan’s 1968 booklet “Old Times There Are Not Forgotten,” found in the UTA Libraries Special Collections.
The group selected two possible names — the Cadets or the Rebels. The entire student body voted for the mascot, and the majority decided to become the Rebels, according to Saxon’s book.
By 1952, the Confederate battle flag became the official banner of the college and “Dixie” the unofficial school song. The flag appeared on Student Government fliers, The Shorthorn’s printed newspapers, band uniforms, football jerseys and more.
These facts don’t point to Hereford directly, but as the chief administrator on campus he could have intervened to stop these things from happening, Napieralski said.
During homecoming week, called “Old South Week,” some campus groups held mock slave auctions and voted for a homecoming king and queen called “Mr. Johnny Reb” and “Miss Dixie Belle,” according to Saxon’s book.
One of the most shocking discoveries that Napieralski found was the existence of the Kampus Kadet Klub, he said.
The organization appeared in social event calendars from 1949 to 1953, according to archived social calendars. It organized school dances and “Nite clubs.” However, it is not affirmed that the organization was tied to the Klu Klux Klan.
The social calendar must be approved by the college. The term ‘college’ used in these papers refers to the Board of Directors, the president, the faculty, all personnel of the A&M System, the student body, former students and all worthy traditions of the institution, according to the Basic Policy that became effective Oct. 1, 1945.
“The college accepts responsibility for the extra-curricular life of the individual student,” according to the policy.
The events found in the social calendar had to be sanctioned by Hereford, Napieralski said. Although the organization’s ties to the Klan aren’t mentioned, the spelling of the name and its acronym suggest Hereford welcomed its ideology, he said.
Saxon said he believes Hereford didn’t intend to foster a climate of racial intolerance.
“As a historian, I have been trained to judge the past on its own terms and based on the attitudes and mores of the time period I am studying. The past is a different place than the present, and it is unfair and inaccurate to judge its people based on what we believe now. Historians call this ‘presentism,’ and we try to avoid it whenever possible,” Saxon said.
Allan Saxe, political science associate professor, said he came to campus in 1965, seven years after Hereford’s death. Saxe said he didn’t know Hereford or his politics, but the rebel theme on campus was a controversial issue when he arrived.
He said he doesn’t know if people should criticize Hereford for not acting on the intolerant environment of the campus.
“Very few people did,” Saxe said. “It’s easy to say somebody ought to be a hero. It ain’t that easy.”
He said he fought against the rebel theme when he got to campus by tearing down the Confederate battle flag outside the University Center, then named the Student Center. The rooms in the Student Center were named after Confederate military leaders, which he also fought to change.
He argued that people could be doing more productive things, but he’s indifferent as to whether the statue and name stand.
Napieralski said the building should be named after one of the three black men who threatened to sue Arlington State College when they weren’t allowed admission in 1962. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People supported the three men who sparked the desegregation of campus, he said.
Prichett said while the issue is being researched, the school tours should stop exhibiting Hereford’s statue as a symbol of good luck.
“We just want to make sure that we’re not promoting, ya know, things and people that stood to divide the culture of the campus that we have now,” he said.