Editor's Note: This story has been updated to include coverage of the meeting.
Black lawmakers, civil rights leaders, students and alumni gathered at the Texas Capitol on Monday to urge The University of Texas once again to change its school song, "The Eyes of Texas," which has been under fire for racist origins since the Black Lives Matter movement over the summer.
The song, which debuted at a minstrel show and has lyrics traced back to Confederate leader Robert E. Lee, was analyzed by a 24-person committee to evaluate its meaning. After months, the committee ruled that the song had no "overtly racist" intent, resulting in UT keeping the alma mater.
At the Capitol on Monday, UT sophomore Zion James stood in the building overlooking Congress Avenue with the words "Black Lives Matter" painted on it and demanded the following from the school:
- Immediate retirement of "The Eyes of Texas"
- More financial aid and scholarships allocated to Black students
- More affordable housing
- Appointment of more Black professors and teacher's assistants
- Trainings on race, anti-racism and UT's racist history
- Transparency between UT administration and students
- All buildings named after people with racist histories be renamed for people who have worked to make the UT community more equitable
Speakers included President of the NAACP Gary Bledsoe, University of Texas history professor Alberto Martínez, State Representative Ron Reynolds and NAACP Houston President Bishop James Dixon. Martínez, who filed a lawsuit against the school for racial-related pay discrepancy, said he once enjoyed the song while he was a student before he knew the meaning behind it.
"To me, before I walked into this, the song was a song I sang. It's a song that I've enjoyed at the stadium," Martínez said. "I can understand how the people of Texas loved it. What I didn't know when I sang the song, was that the song was based (on racism)."
University of Texas history professor Alberto Martínez
Martínez mentioned how The University of Mississippi stopped playing its song, "Dixie," after the song's historical context was unearthed in 2016. Ole Miss said the change was made to create a more welcoming environment for all its students.
Martínez said if Ole Miss can change a song with similar roots, UT should not be daunted by the change.
"Why is UT so slow to change? UT does not have a democracy so certainly there was no poll of the faculty, there was no poll of the students, there was no poll of the athletes, there was no poll of the marching band," Martínez said. "Instead, mainly anonymous administrators represented by our president Jay Hartzell, decided that this song would stick."
Martínez worked on an independent analysis of the song's history for 15 days, during which time he said he found a number of things that were not in the original committee's report. The song was inspired by a quote from confederate general Robert E. Lee, was written the day minstrel shows started and played at shows that were intended for white people to mock Black people.
The 58-page report by the committee instead states that the history of the song reflects the history of the country at that time, and while the song was performed at a minstrel show in blackface, it was intended to "parody the famous phrases of the university president," rather than Lee.
Martínez questioned why he was not asked to be part of the committee. Students who testified at the news conference said they also did not feel they were represented in the committee. James said he was shocked but not surprised when he found out the song would stay while the committee was composed of "key players at UT."
"I did not see a lot of representation for us, I did not see our Black Student Alliance president on that council," James said. "It was just disheartening to see simply because the people who are fighting for this and have been the key people in this were not on that committee at all."
Longhorns band saxophone player Judson Hayden said many of his band peers are opposed to playing the song because the Black body is opposed. While an official statement from President Jay Hartzell said the students will have the option to sing the song, there were no directives given for the band or football players. Hayden said it is still up for discussion whether or not the song will be played in the fall.
The meeting was concluded with a message from Dixon, who said removing the song would be a huge step for the state of Texas.
"It's amazing that we're debating what's obvious... If the racist lyrics in this song were written in the reverse, they never would have made it to the light of day. They certainly would not be the mantra of an institution as grand as the University of Texas. What we're asking is not only common sense, but decency and consideration."
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Austin is in for an early start to what is threatening to be an unseasonably hot summer.
So far, this month has been the hottest May on record with Camp Mabry reporting an average temperature of 82 degrees, compared to the National Weather Service’s recorded average of 74 degrees from May 1-10.
Austin has been an average of 8 degrees hotter than normal this month—the hottest May since 1898. NWS meteorologist Keith White told Austonia that Austinites have La Niña to thank for this sweaty summer.
What is causing the heatwave?
A phenomenon characterized by cooling waters across the central and eastern pacific oceans, La Niña tends to cause cooler and wetter conditions in the northern U.S. but warmer and drier conditions across Central Texas. We would typically be on our way out of La Niña at this time of year, according to White, but the heat can be turned around with a little rain.
White explained that the sun is able to heat dry ground—due to the drought and La Niña—more efficiently than wet ground. West Austinites might be feeling more of the heat, as the drought has been worse west of town.
Austin is entering its rainy season, which tends to fall between May and October. The last 30 days have seen about 2-4 inches of rain, which is just a touch below average, but White said the end of May is looking rainy, which could quell the heat.
“There will be some dependency on if we're able to pick up some more beneficial rains here,” White said. “While at least over the course of the next week it looks likely to remain dry, there may be some rain chances returning toward the end of May.”
Does a record-breaking May mean a record-breaking summer?
Not necessarily, though in part due to climate change, all of the top five hottest summers have been recorded since 2008 with the hottest to date in 2011. Meanwhile, 2021 was only the 38th hottest summer on record.
White said that means climate variability is superimposed against climate change, meaning temperatures are gradually rising, but the amount of rain we receive could make a huge difference.
While 2011 saw more than 90 100-degree days, 2021 only saw 12 100-degree days.
“As our climate warms, the risk of excessive heat will increase because you're taking the average temperature and moving it up,” White said.
How to stay safe and cool
With rising temperatures, there is always a risk of heat-related illness. In fact, White said last weekend there were 29 heat-related illness calls to Austin EMS.
The best way to avoid getting sick in the hot Texas summer is to wear light clothing, drink lots of water, take breaks in air-conditioned areas and familiarize yourself with symptoms of hyperthermia.
And prepare yourself for the first half of August, which is traditionally the hottest time of year.
Austin's summertime tradition is returning to Zilker Park this summer.
Blues on the Green is bringing free live music to the park June 14-15 and July 19-20, Austin City Limits Radio announced Wednesday. Performing artists have not been announced yet.
Blues on the Green 2022 is coming your way this summer! 🌞 Mark those calendars and join ACL Radio at Zilker Park on June 14th-15th and July 19th-20th. 😎 Stay tuned for the #BOTG lineup coming soon! 🎶
Presented by @HEB, Benefiting @austinparksfdn: https://t.co/MdzBGHzlvgpic.twitter.com/soNZyqYze0
— Austin City Limits Radio (@ACL_RADIO) May 11, 2022
The concert series has been taking place for 30 years. It entails a sea of people lounging in Zilker Park with one stage featuring usually local musicians. Recent shows have included Gary Clark Jr. and Shakey Graves.
For the past two years, Blues on the Green has faced postponements due to COVID surges.