University of Texas-Austin athletes and band members will not be required to participate in “The Eyes of Texas,” but a university investigation found “no racist intent” behind the school song.
The 58-page Eyes of Texas History Committee Report, which was commissioned after athletes and students began to protest the song last summer amid racial injustice protests, was released Tuesday. The 24-person committee was tasked with looking at the history, origins and lyrics of “The Eyes of Texas,” which was written in 1903. According to The Associated Press, the panel found that the song was “rooted in a message of accountability and striving toward excellence. The report also noted the song was first performed at a minstrel show, most likely with performers in blackface.”
“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 reads. “'The Eyes of Texas' should not only unite us, but hold all of us accountable to our institution’s core values."
While the panel examined history, UT-Austin president Jay Hartzell had already decided the song would continue as a campus tradition.
“This report gives us a common set of facts for more conversations,” said Hartzell, who was planning to meet with the football team and athletes to discuss the investigation’s findings. "It’s possible the committee could have uncovered something that could have caused us to reconsider. It did not.
“Nobody has been, or will be, required to sing the song. That's going to be going forward the way we continue to operate. We hope that as people go through the report, read through the facts, they'll find ways to participate in some way. Whether it's the case of the athletes standing on the field, or the fans in the stands as we sing, there's going to be no punishment, no mandate, no requirement if people choose not to participate.”
The committee’s report also included suggestions such as teaching the song’s history during student orientation, or allowing new versions of the song to be composed.
The Daily Texan reported in October that the Longhorn Band was divided over whether or not to play “The Eyes of Texas,” while the The Texas Tribune obtained emails from alumni and donors that threatened to pull their support if the university didn’t show more support for the tradition. A majority of the alumni emails to Hartzell came after Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger was alone at midfield of the Cotton Bowl while the song played following a 53-45 triple-overtime loss to Oklahoma on Oct. 10.
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According to The Associated Press, among the committee’s findings were:
- Researchers said they could find no direct link between the signature line “the eyes of Texas are upon you" and anything Lee might have said to his students at Washington and Lee University, where he was president after the Civil War. The panel determined there is a “very low likelihood” the line originated with Lee.
- The song borrows the melody of “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” a song with racist lyrics, most likely because it was already well known and easy to sing.
- Performances at campus minstrel shows with actors in blackface, which continued into the 1960s, are a “painful reality," but the song does not appear to have been composed as a minstrel tune.