UT to release report Tuesday on history of ‘Eyes of Texas’ spirit song

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — After months of working, the appointed group of University of Texas at Austin students, employees and alumni have completed their report on the history of “The Eyes of Texas” song.

The committee will share its findings with the public Tuesday. These 24 UT community members were charged with researching and unpacking the history of the song, which drew criticism over the past year, due to connections between the song’s origins and historic racism at the university.

Specifically, UT student athletes galvanized calls for the university to discontinue the use of the song in the summer of 2020 as movements for racial justice and police reform swept the country. Criticisms of the song over the summer cited a racial geography project from a professor and documents from the history of the university and some organizations associated with it. These sources indicated the song was inspired by a phrase from Confederate General Robert E. Lee and was performed at minstrel shows by students wearing blackface.

The first performance of this song is believed to have happened in 1903 at a minstrel show in Austin.

UT President Jay Hartzell announced a committee in October that would “chronicle the full history of the ‘The Eyes’ and recommend ways we can openly acknowledge, share and learn from it.”

“‘The Eyes of Texas’ should not only unite us, but hold all of us accountable to our institution’s core values,” Hartzell said in July of 2020. “But we first must own the history.”

Ahead of the official release of the committee findings, the Austin American-Statesman reported on Saturday that the committee’s report is expected to challenge the narrative that the UT community has become familiar with about the song’s history over the past year. The chair of the committee told the Statesman that his team could not find evidence that “The Eyes of Texas are upon you” was inspired by a phrase used by Robert E. Lee.

Texas Monthly reported on Sunday that the committee did not find “racist intent” in the lyrics to the song and did not find that anything said or written by Lee was connected to the lyrics.

UT Austin told KXAN Monday that the university couldn’t share the report before it’s release. KXAN asked UT to confirm that the report could not find any historical connections to Robert E. Lee and The Eyes of Texas, a spokesperson responded saying: “need to hold off until you read it to assess that.”

The report from this committee is 95 pages long, UT said.

Conversation over UT’s alma mater reached a flashpoint again last week when the Texas Tribune published a report based on nearly 300 emails sent to UT Austin’s president, 70% of which demanded UT keep playing the song and 75 of whom threatened to stop supporting the school financially if this did not happen. Two Longhorns football players also told the Texas Tribune that they were required to remain on the field after games when the song played because donors “were upset by athletes protesting the game day tradition.”

Hartzell responded to the Tribune story on March 2, alluding to racist comments in some of the emails the Tribune obtained.

“Out of the many emails I received this fall, a very small number included comments that were truly abhorrent and hateful,” Hartzell said in the statement. “I categorically reject them, and they bear no influence on any aspect of our decision-making.”

The UT president issued another statement in a letter to the community on March 5, blaming a spike in community frustrations that week was on the media, who he believes “have pushed a narrative that university donors are dismissive of our students’ concerns and have exerted undue influence over campus decision making.”

Hartzell also implied that conversations about the song on social media suggest the university “can’t solve problems together,” a suggestion he disagrees with. He went on to say that he believes the committee’s work and the discussion around The Eyes of Texas at UT will create “a new model for hard conversations.”

Hartzell acknowledged that the university reckoning with racism past and present will continue to be a key theme of discussion for the Longhorn community.

“Since I became president, the two most pressing issues we’ve faced have been the pandemic and unrest on campus in the wake of the senseless killing of George Floyd,” he wrote. ” I firmly believe we are combating both with our talents, energies and, indeed, our kindness for others.”

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