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UT Austin Committee Determines Intent Of 'The Eyes of Texas' Was 'Not Overtly Racist'

A student wearing a protective face mask, walks in front of the Main Tower on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin during the coronavirus pandemic.
A student wearing a protective face mask, walks in front of the Main Tower on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin during the coronavirus pandemic.

The intent of "The Eyes of Texas" was "not overtly racist," a UT Austin committee said in a report about the song released Tuesday morning.

"However," the 59-page report states, "it is similarly clear that the cultural milieu that produced it was."

The committee recommended developing a campaign for students and alumni "to lean into difficult conversations, including race, history, and talking across differences." The group was formed by UT President Jay Hartzell last year to take an in-depth look at the school's alma mater, first performed in blackface at a minstrel show in 1903.

The song has a long and complicated history, but the committee found the song itself was not racist.

The story of the song's origin is often told like this: then-university President William Prather was a fan of speeches by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and Lee’s signature ending, “the eyes of the South are upon you.” Prather, as the story went, cribbed the line and was fond of saying “the eyes of Texas are upon you” and repeated it often.

But the committee found no primary source for a Lee speech that ended that way. Washington and Lee University (then Washington College), where Lee was president and Prather a student, have no record of it. The claims of the connection come from a memoir by a former Texas dean named T.U. Taylor. The committee found other errors in Taylor’s recollections and concluded that it was unlikely “The Eyes of Texas” originated with Lee’s words.

The song was written by band members to make fun of Prather. He later embraced the song and it took on new meaning after his death in 1905. In the following decades, it was played at football games, used as a form of protest by students and other groups at the state Capitol, and was even played on board NASA spacecraft.

The committee was charged with finding the song’s history and meaning. It was not going to make a decision on the song’s future at the campus. That was made last year by the University of Texas Board of Regents.

In the weeks following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, a group of student-athletes at the university posted on social media that they would not participate in any fundraising events if the university did not make changes on campus.

The students demanded the removal of names of known racists from campus buildings and a structured program with funding from the athletic program to recruit Black students to UT, a student population that is underrepresented on campus. They also said they wanted the option of not standing for "The Eyes of Texas" because of its racist origins.

The response from donors and alumni became the subject of controversy after their emails were made public earlier this month.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Got a tip? Email Jimmy Maas at jmaas@kut.org. Follow him on Twitter @maasdinero.

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