The University of Texas released a 59-page report Tuesday detailing the history of “The Eyes of Texas” school song, determining that while it debuted at a 1903 minstrel show, there was “no racist intent.”
In summary, the report, which was put together by a 24-person committee concluded, “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 added that the “Eyes of Texas” debuted at a minstrel show on May 12, 1903, and “almost certainly” was performed by white singers in blackface. However, it was not written as a song meant to disparage any race, the report adds, “we are pained and uncomfortable with this aspect of its history.”
Also, the report added that there is no direct connection to Confederate General Robert E. Lee. This news came out on Monday, that while it’s widely believed that the phrase “The Eyes of Texas are upon you” is a spin on an old phrase coined by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee after he became a university president in the 1860s, there was no evidence found to support that claim, according to Dr. Richard Reddick, the committee chairman and associate dean in the UT College of Education. The report did add this caveat, “Absence of evidence, of course, is not proof of absence.”
The writing of the song
The song was written by UT student John Lang Sinclair, who was a yearbook editor and UT band member. Lewis Johnson, then the director of the University Chorus, believed that UT needed a school song and Sinclair drew his inspiration from former UT University President William Prather, who said often “the Eyes of Texas are upon you.” The tune borrows a melody from “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” which of course is a noted slave song, however the report says it was the tune used as it was “a popular melody that many UT students already knew.”
According to Lewis Johnson’s family records, the lyrics “Do not think you can escape them/At night or early in the morn” had specific purpose, and it had nothing to do with a reference to slave owners to watch Black people. Instead, the Johnson’s family records state that those words were “a direct statement to the student body (overwhelmingly white at that time) that the elders of the state and the previous generations are watching them and expecting them to do great things with their education.”
The report was presented to all UT athletes on Tuesday, two sources said, and they were allowed to ask questions. The hope is that athletes go back and talk as individual teams about how they want to proceed.
Also of note this week, UT President Jay Hartzell told Longhorn Network, “My hope is that we’ll get to a point where people feel good about staying on the field and honoring each other. But nobody’s going to be required or mandated to stay on the field, or sing the song.”
Needless to say, it seems like this might not be the end of the controversy, even if it should be.
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