UT committee says controversial ‘Eyes of Texas’ song has ‘no racist intent’

The University of Texas formed a committee last November to investigate the origin of the track

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The University of Texas school song “Eyes of Texas” is here to stay following a push by several student-athletes for it to be dropped due to its racist origins. 

Despite the song being first performed at a 1903 college campus minstrel show, the University of Texas released a 58-page report Tuesday that says “The Eyes of Texas” was not written with “racist intent.” 

Many accounts claim the song’s original author, John Sinclair, was inspired by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, who allegedly told his students at Washington College and Lee University, where he was president after the Civil War, that “the eyes of the South are upon you,” meaning they should always uphold the traditional values of the south, including an appreciation for slavery. The phrase was reportedly made popular on the UT campus by former university president William Lambdin Prather. The campus minstrel shows continued into the 1960’s.

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The University of Texas formed a 24-member committee last November to investigate the origin of the song after outcry and community division over the controversy, ESPN reports. The report acknowledges that the first public performance of “The Eyes of Texas” was “almost certainly” performed by whites in blackface. The authors write “we are pained and uncomfortable with this aspect of its history.”

The song is traditionally played before and after Texas Longhorns football games. Early in the season last year, players reportedly refused to stay on the field for the song. The committee decided that while the culture that produced the song was rooted in racism the song itself “had no racist intent.”

“These historical facts add complexity and richness to the story of a song that debuted in a racist setting, exceedingly common for the time, but, as the preponderance of research showed, had no racist intent,” the report states. “‘The Eyes of Texas’ should not only unite us, but hold all of us accountable to our institution’s core values.”

 Researchers said they found no direct link between Robert E. Lee and the line “the eyes of Texas are upon you.”

Texas president Jay Hartzell addressed the committee’s report during an interview on the Longhorn Network on Tuesday. 

“The hope is that everybody will use this report as an opportunity to come forward with the same fact base and be able to have more conversations, certainly including with our student-athletes,” Hartzell said.

When asked if the song had racist undertones, Hartzell said “For me, the song itself doesn’t.”

Hartzell added, “But it certainly was present at different times where those undertones existed. You go back to thinking about its first performance in 1903 at a minstrel show. I mean, you cannot deny that that performance has the racial undertones, and overtones, if you will. Hateful things. But on the other hand, if you look at the way, to me, the song was composed, written and designed. … It was not designed for that.”

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Hartzell said it’s “unfair” that athletes were attacked on social media for pushing UT to drop “The Eyes of Texas.”

“I really feel for [them for] some of the vitriol they’ve faced and suffered from,” Hartzell said. “I think it’s unfair and they were doing what they should do. They used their voice. We’re in a better place now than we were before because of them. … I wish I could protect everybody from hearing things that are hateful, but the best I can, we can denounce it and come to show them love.”

Following the committee’s report, Hartzell said athletes will not be required to sing the song.

“My hope is that we’ll get to a point where people feel good about staying on the field and honoring each other, whether it’s fans in the stands honoring the student-athletes, student-athletes honoring support from the fans,” Hartzell said.

The UT committee reportedly featured students, alumni, members of the Longhorn Band, historians, administrators and professors.

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