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'No racist intent': New report says 'Eyes of Texas' will remain UT alma mater

After coming under fire for a racist history, the controversial University of Texas alma mater "The Eyes of Texas" will remain the school song after a committee review found no racist intent, according to a report released Tuesday.

Students and some alumni have stood firm in their position that the song has a racist history, pointing to certain lyrics and the song's use at a minstrel show over 100 years ago. Issues with the song came after a summer of Black Lives Matter protests heightened social tensions—and were accompanied by demands for other changes, such as renaming UT buildings with Confederate namesakes. This led to hundreds refusing to sing the alma mater at football games, football players leaving the field during the playing of the song and even the band opting out of playing it in the stands this past season.

The song has created a division between the UT community, as hundreds of alumni and university donors sent emails to UT President Jay Hartzell demanding the song remain in place, The Texas Tribune reported last week.

In recent months, a committee made up of 24 faculty members, athletes, band members and alumni reviewed the song for its origins and use over the years and have since released a 58-page report. The report 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."

In summary, the committee wrote, "Research by the committee has uncovered important facts and historical context, some of which have never been systematically compiled and analyzed until now ... These facts add nuance and richness to the story of a song debuted in a racist setting, common for the time, but, the research shows, was intended to parody the famous phrases of the university president."

The report states that "the eyes of Texas are upon you" phrase drew inspiration from a favorite phrase of then-UT president William Prather. The controversial lyrics were believed to be drawn from a quote often repeated by leader of the Confederate army, Robert E. Lee: "The eyes of the south are upon you."

The Eyes of Texas are upon you,

All the livelong day.

The Eyes of Texas are upon you,

You cannot get away.

Do not think you can escape them

At night or early in the morn.

The Eyes of Texas are upon you

'Til Gabriel blows his horn.

But the committee found the song lyrics to have no connection to Lee. The committee also found the phrase "the eyes of ___________ are upon you" was often used before 1903.

And moving through the other lyrics, the report states that the words' meaning, which some associated with slaves escaping, is about elders having a watchful eye on students of the university.

Along with pages on various aspects of the song, the report offers 40 recommendations for healing from the history of the alma mater in a constructive way. View on page 9 here.

While the song is to stay, changes that did or are in the process of taking place on campus include:

  • Renaming the Robert L. Moore building, one of several buildings that students have long protested for being named after an outspoken segregationist. Other protested buildings and landmarks, such as Littlefield Fountain and the statue of Texas Gov. Jim Hogg, will remain on campus.
  • Renaming Joe Jamail Field in honor of Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams—two "Longhorn legends"—at "the suggestion of the Jamail family."
  • Adding a display and statue of Herman Sweatt to the T.S. Painter Hall. Painter, a university president, denied Sweatt admittance to UT's law school and the case went to the Supreme Court, where Painter lost.
  • Adding a statue for Julius Whittier, UT's first Black football player.
At the release of the report, UT President Hartzell sent a university-wide email acknowledging the complicated past of the song. He said as he respects free speech, no one will be required to sing the song, but hopes it can bring the community together:

"My hope is that we can sing it together, mindful of our university's past and proud of the progress we've made since the 19th century."


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