AUSTIN, Texas - A comprehensive report from a committee tasked to look at the University of Texas at Austin's alma mater song has been released and one of the committee's findings was that the "intent of 'The Eyes of Texas' was not overtly racist."
The committee went on to say that "it is similarly clear that the cultural milieu that produced it was. And the fact that the song was, for decades, sung and revered on a segregated campus has, understandably, blurred the lines between intent and historical and contemporary impact. This complicates its understanding and explains how different people experienced the song in vastly different ways."
That finding was one of the four charges the committee of two dozen faculty scholars, students, and alumni (including athletes and Longhorn Band representatives) looked at in the 58-page report documenting the nearly 120-year history of "The Eyes of Texas". You can read the full report here.
In a news release, the University of Texas at Austin noted some key findings.
- While conventional wisdom traced the title to a comment by Gen. Robert E. Lee, the committee concluded there was "very low likelihood" the line originated with Lee.
- Reviewing the creation of the lyrics in 1903, the committee found no evidence they were intended to show nostalgia for slavery but found facts supporting the song’s message of accountability.
- The song borrowed a popular melody of the time from "I’ve Been Working on the Railroad." Evidence points to the melody being used because of its familiarity and popularity among students in the early 1900s. While some lyrics of the Railroad/Levee song are racist, the tune was selected at a time when borrowing well-known melodies was a common practice.
- Research reveals "The Eyes of Texas" was intended to affectionately parody the university president’s famous signatory line. That "The Eyes of Texas" was almost certainly debuted in blackface is a painful reality of the song’s origin, notes the report’s Executive Summary: "Although it was not written in dialect and does not appear to have been composed as a minstrel song, we are pained and uncomfortable with this aspect of its history. We believe it is important to fully acknowledge and learn from the university’s past."
In an executive summary, the committee noted four key takeaways.
- "The Eyes of Texas remains the alma mater. UT President Jay Hartzell said in July 2020 that it would remain UT's alma mater and the UT System Board of Regents supported the decision. The committee was not tasked with making any decision or recommendation on this. The committee says it was created with the "sole authority to research and understand the song's history, as well as institutional and broader historical uses since its inception."
- The history of the song reflects the history of America. The committee says, "The history of the 'The Eyes of Texas' mirrors the history the United States, Texas, The University of Texas at Austin as well as its band and sports teams. This complexity creates an opportunity for continued learning, sharing, and understanding."
- Facts and historical content matter. The committee says its research uncovered important facts and historical context with some of it having "never been systematically compiled and analyzed until now. Additionally, the research provides robust evidence about many elements of the song, several of which have been previously unsupported by fact. 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 phrase of the university president. The exclusion of Black students at that time presents an opportunity to think about how they and other communities of color have fought for inclusion and the work that remains to ensure all members of our community feel they belong."
- Living out the meaning. The committee says the song from its inception has been a song about "accountability" and that "the spirit and intention of the song compels the university to be transparent about its past and be ever more accountable to the state and its diverse people. In this sense, the work of the committee was a microcosm of what the university should stand for: research, getting to the facts, seeking to understand others' veiwpoints, continuing to learn, courageously confronting and acknowledging our history, and finding ways to strengthen our community going forward."
WHY WAS THE COMMITTEE FORMED?
Student-athletes asked UT-Austin to drop the school song during Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020, among other demands, threatening to forgo participation in recruiting and donor events. The university responded with plans to boost Black student enrollment and recruitment, but it kept the song and pledged to educate visitors and students on its history and context.
Before the start of the fall semester in August 2020, several Longhorn band members said they wouldn't perform the song. The song had been played at games using a recording as the band wasn't playing due to COVID-19.
After a loss to the University of Oklahoma in October 2020, only a few UT players remained on the field as the song played. A month later in November 2020, it was announced that a committee would be formed to look into the history of the song.
WHO WAS ON THE COMMITTEE?
H.W. Brands, Professor of History
Ricky Brown, Assistant Athletics Director, Director of T-Association
Don Carleton, Executive Director, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History
Rick Church, Texas Ex and Longhorn Band alumnus
Quan Cosby, Texas Ex and former Longhorn football player
Jim Davis, Vice President for Legal Affairs
Logan Eggleston, Longhorn Volleyball player; President, Student-Athlete Advisory Committee
Caroline Enriquez, Assistant Director of Recruitment Scholarships, Office of Admissions
Cloteal Davis Haynes, Texas Ex and President of The Precursors
Yolanda Hall, Texas Ex, Chair-Elect of Black Alumni Network
Kathleen Holloway, Communications Director, Graduate Student Assembly
Peniel Joseph, Professor, Department of History and LBJ School of Public Affairs
Sharon Justice, Former Associate Vice President and Dean of Students
Anagha Kikkeri, Student Government President Jim Nicar, Director, UT Heritage Society
Kyanna Richard, Longhorn Band member
Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez, Professor of Journalism, Director of the Voces Oral History Project
Victor Saenz, Chair, Department of Educational Leadership and Policy
Cherise Smith, Chair, Department of African and African Diaspora Studies
Courtney SoRelle, Captain of Spirit Squad
Ronnye Vargas Stidvent, Executive Director, Center for Women in Law
Andrew Vo, Texas Ex, Chief Human Resources Officer – Growth Markets at Accenture
Jenn Wang, Senior Director of International Advancement and Principal Gifts