Texas panel finds no 'racist intent' behind 'Eyes of Texas' as school won't require athletes to sing it

Nick Bromberg
·5 min read

Texas athletes and band members are not required to participate in the playing of the "Eyes of Texas" at school events.

That directive emerged Tuesday when the school released a report from a panel that studied the history and usage of the school's famous alma mater. The report said that there was no racist intent behind the usage of the 118-year-old song, though it did cite the song's debut in a "racist setting." The song was performed at minstrel shows in the early 1900s.

The panel was commissioned by the school after numerous Black Texas athletes pointed out the song's racist associations.

"The research leads us to surmise that intent of 'The Eyes of Texas' was not overtly racist," the report said. "However, 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."

Texas administration has stood by song

The clarification of the directive for all athletes to sing the song after games comes after Texas' athletic administration has stood by the singing of the song.

New Texas coach Steve Sarkisian was asked about the long-simmering song controversy in his introductory news conference in January and said that the team would continue to sing the song proudly. But school president Jay Hartzell said that athletes had never been required to sing the song and that they would not be required to sing it going forward.

Two Texas players said last week that they had been forced to be on the field for the song after donors made financial threats to the university.

“Nobody has been, or will be, required to sing the song,” Hartzell said via the AP. “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.”

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The Texas band didn't play the song at the school's final two home football games of the season in 2020. Texas athletes first spoke out against the song over the summer. The request to drop it as the school song was among other requests that included naming more buildings after Black people and the addition of a Black history exhibit to the school's hall of fame.

AUSTIN, TX - NOVEMBER 03:  A general view of the stadium before the game between the Texas Longhorns and the West Virginia Mountaineers at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on November 3, 2018 in Austin, Texas.  (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Texas players are not required to sing the "Eyes of Texas." (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)

Some Texas donors had spoken out against athletes

Black students' opposition to the song touched a nerve among some wealthy Texas donors. The Texas Tribune obtained emails to the school from upset alumni who threatened to withhold their financial contributions to the school if the school didn't stand by the song.

The school quickly made it clear that it felt a few "extremist" viewpoints among donors weren't a representative sample of the school's alumni base.

Did the song have a connection to Robert E. Lee?

It had long been thought that the phrase "Eyes of Texas" had been derived by a former school president (William Prather) from Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's saying of "the eyes of the south are upon you." According to the report, that wasn't the case.

The report says that isn't true.

Many accounts over the years have stated as fact that the saying “The eyes of Texas are upon you” was inspired by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, who was thought to have often said “the eyes of the South are upon you” as president of Washington College after the Civil War, where Prather had studied. Lee was clearly a beloved figure to Prather, but no primary source has been found connecting the phrase as something that Lee used. The oft-repeated claims that Lee was the inspiration all seem to trace back to a 1938 memoir by retired engineering dean T.U. Taylor. The committee’s research revealed multiple errors in Taylor’s remembrance. What is more, research failed to discover in the records of Washington & Lee University (as Washington College is now called) evidence that Lee ever closed an address to the students with the phrase attributed to him by the Taylor account.

Finally on this point, the committee noted numerous examples of the formulation “the eyes of ___________ are upon you” around the world and long predating 1903. In the earliest example, the Book of Job declares, “For His eyes are on the ways of a man, and He sees his every step.” Other uses of the line include President George Washington saying “the eyes of the nation are upon you.” Based on the evidence, the committee concluded that there was a very low likelihood that the line originated with Robert E. Lee and was instead a message of encouragement and accountability to the students and faculty at the then fledgling university.

The panel's report made it clear that the song would remain as Texas' alma mater, but the first recommendation after keeping the song was for the school to "address the negative historical aspects of the song upfront and include historical context." The panel also said it wanted to make it clear that the students who spoke out against the song in 2020 should be properly recognized.

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