History

100 Problems in ‘The Eyes of Texas’

A long list of reasons why UT Austin should change its official school song

Now consider what, to some people, simply cannot exist: the many problems in The Eyes of Texas, the official song of the University of Texas at Austin. Since many people have no problems with it, some choose to imagine that no such problems exist, and that anyone who brings them up is inventing them, being divisive. Still, many people do care to hear the concerns of others, so this article is for them. I’ve collected problems in order to explain why many people complain that this song does not unify UT students.

A world-class University should have a song that unites its students, community, and alumni. But this one, very clearly does not. Despite thousands of objections, UT’s President Hartzell decided to keep the song in July 2020. That was a mistake, as the present article itemizes why thousands of students, athletes, faculty, staff, alumni, state legislators, and prominent community members complain about UT’s official song.

Obviously, it’s much easier not to list anything. It’s much easier to shut our eyes and ears. But what if we don’t?

Consider the following: 100 problems in The Eyes of Texas.

1. March 29, 2021, Texas State Capitol: the Texas Legislative Black Caucus of thirteen elected members of the Texas House of Representatives has stated that their opposition to UT’s song is “unequivocal.”

2. The Eyes of Texas song was created in 1903 for UT’s first Minstrel show: a racist event in which White students and faculty mocked Black persons by ridiculing the way they look, the way they talked, and their intelligence. Minstrel shows were organized by White people who wanted to make money by making fun of Black people. The 1903 Minstrel show was organized by UT’s Athletics Director.

3. June 9, 2020: a coalition of UT students issued 8 Demands for Transformative Change, including: “Discontinue any use of ‘The Eyes of Texas’ at all UT related events, and compose a new official school spirit song with the inclusion of BIPOC composers and musicians.” They explained that it “was originally debuted as a song at a minstrel show where the performers were in Blackface, or theatrical makeup used by non-Black performers to portray caricatures of Black individuals. Endorsing ‘The Eyes of Texas’ as the official school song with its explicit, anti-Black origin directly harms the Black community. As such, we call for discontinuing ‘The Eyes of Texas’ in all UT programming, including but not limited to sporting events, orientation, commencement ceremonies, and any on campus activities…”

4. In only eight days, the Statement had 4,045 signatures, including the Executive Boards and Members of the elected, governing bodies of students: UT’s Student Government, and, Senate of College Councils.

5. Furthermore, at least 176 organizations on campus called for actions against racism. And also, 19,098 people signed a petition asking UT to “Acknowledge the racist roots of ‘The Eyes of Texas,’” and other demands.

6. The Eyes of Texas is a knock-off of the Levee Song, which includes the racist N-word twice, and says that Black men are most happy when they’re out of jail. The Eyes of Texas song copies phrases, words, rhymes, and the melody of the Levee Song. Question: How many universities have an official song based on a song that uses the N-word twice?

7. The Demand that UT stop using The Eyes of Texas was also signed by many student leaders, including 131 Presidents of UT student groups: Gregorio Ponti, President of the Graduate Student Assembly; Anagha Kikeri, President of Student Government; Alcess Nonot and Michael Morton, Presidents of the Senate of College Councils; Shilpa Rajagopal, President of the Natural Sciences Council; Justin Ansley, President of the Liberal Arts Council; Sam LeBus, President of the Student Engineering Council; John Scholl, President of the Undergraduate Business Council; Victoria Stranczeck, President of the Communication Council; Delaney Harness, President of the Graduate Communication Council; Madelaine Spiering, President of the Graduate Public Affairs Council; Brianna Villarreal, President of the Education Council; Yessmeen Moharram, President of the Fine Arts Council; Temi Osanyintolu, President of the Undergraduate Architecture Student Council; Anna Farr and Carolyn Plein, Presidents of the Social Work Council; Viviane Mathieu, Co-President of the Diversity and Inclusion Student Council; Lorraine Scott and Shaina Hall, Co-Presidents of the Black Graduate Student Association; Paul Mannie III, President of the Black Ex-Students of Texas, Austin Chapter; Erica Brody, Alumni Board President; Rylan Maksoud, Co-President of the Plan II Students’ Association; Devika Kumar, Co-President, International Relations and Global Studies Council; Antony Collier, President, Student Bar Association; David Jenkins, President of UT Law’s Students for Arts; Lynn Huynh and Bianca Hsieh, Presidents of Texas Orange Jackets; Nicole Poirot, President of Longhorn Singers; Victoria Tatum, President of Texas Ballroom; Brittany Uebbing, President of the Engineering Chamber Orchestra; Emma Crane, President of the Texas Lassos; Reagan Lamp and Kelby Salinas, Presidents of Texas Lonestars; Zoe Ramirez and Katie Koehler, Presidents of the Texas Spirits; Miah Mayberry, President of Forever Texas; Samuel Oshoba, President of the Excellence Mentorship Club; Sonia Patel, President of the SciCo USA STEM Mentorship Program; Smruthi Senthil, President of Expectations; Malcolm McGregor, President of the Black Student Alliance; Kiara Kabbara, President of UT’s NAACP Chapter; Alani Butler, President of the Black Business Students Association; Alexander Tekle and Avwerosuoghene Inikori, Presidents of the National Society of Black Engineers; Brynna Boyd, President of the Black Honors Student Association; Malik S. Julien, President of the African American Culture Committee; Eric Cain, President of the Heman Sweatt Center for Black Males; Eunice Olajimi, President of UT Black Health Professions; Chidera Nwaiwu, President of the African Students Organization; Danielle Maldonado, President of the Society of Physics Students; Joseph Guidry, Co-President of the Astronomy Students Association; Audra Collins, President of the Association of Black Computer Scientists; Carson Reed, President of the Resident Assistant Association; Evana Flores, President of the University Panhellenic Council; Suzanne Zeid, Co-President of Alpha Lamda Delta Phi Eta Sigma Honor Society; Ja’la Jones, President of the Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Chapter; Jacob Wilson, President of the Alpha Kappa Psi; Shaan Davis, President of Delta Sigma Pi: Beta Kappa; Jacey Rosengren, President of Mu Phi Epsilon; Ale Moreno, President of Pi Sigma Pi; Sofia Pedroza, President of UT Alpha Phi Sigma; Neha Bardhan, President of Omega Phi Alpha; Sarah Fung, President of Chi Kappa Phi Service Society; Sanjana Pappu, President of the Kappa Theta Epsilon Engineering Co-Op Honor Society; Gabriela Mata, President of the Psi Chi Honors Society at UT; Zachary Phi, President of the Lions Club; Ummul-Baneen Jafry, President of the Texas Transfer Students; Aman Patel, President of the University Management and Business Research Association; Claire Levinson, President of the Queer Business Student Association; Vincent Lin, President of the Asian Business Student Association; Rutuja Joshi, President of the Asian Business Student Association Consulting Team; Trysten Henderson, Co-President of the Asian Pacific American Law Student Association; Bianca Hsieh, President of the Texas Business Law Association; James Follett, President of Texas Law Fellowships; Ashish Chakraborty, President of the ATX Science Olympiad; Aparna Krishnan, President of the Texas Civic Tech Project; Alexandra Evans, President of the University Democrats; Chung-Wing Ko, President of the Taiwanese American Students Association; Anna Carter, Camp Texas President; Sara Venkataraman, President of the UT Society of Women Engineers; Cailyn Stewart, Co-President, Texas Undergraduate Chemical Engineering Women; Andrea Vigil, President, LGBTQ+ Engineers; Cristina Puente, President of Minorities in Education; Luis Garcia, President of the Central American Student Association; Cecilia Gomez, President of the Latin Economics and Business Association; Clarissa Castillo, President of the Hispanic Business Student Association; América Quistiano, President of the Hispanic Association of Computer Scientists; Ryan Oropeza, President of the La Fe: Latino Fellowship; Olga Briceno, President of the Undergraduate Venezuelan Association; Rohan Nair, Co-President of the Turing Scholars Student Association; Gerardo Ruiz-Tenorio, Co-President of Texas Rising; Sophia Luongo, President of the Anthro Society; Katherine Byers, President of Campus Events & Entertainment; Kaci Nguyen, President of Texas Convergent; Katie Koehler, President of Texas Roundtable; Maria Torres, President of DKA Professional Cinematic Society; Max Bernhardt, President, Texas Cycling; Josie Boucher, Co-President of Longhorn Powerlifting; Kierstyn Gallegos, President of Voices Against Violence; Alexandra S. Mulconnery, President of SURE Walk; Erica Brody, President of Best Buddies; Tatum Troutt, Co-President of the International City/County Management Association at UT; Margaret Gallagher, Co-President of the American Society of Landscape Architects Student Chapter; Delaney Davis, President of It’s On Us at UT Austin; Yasemin Elrabaa, Co-President of Deeds at UT Austin; Julio Munoz, President of Hook’em Arts; Allison Webster, President of SNAFU Improv; Jacob Baker, President of Texas Tribe; Maya Khan and Emma Goins, Presidents of Texas Sweethearts; Priyanka Reddy, President of She’s the First UT Chapter; Avni Nandu, President of Texas Bluebonnets; Sara Zamora, President of Texas Darlins; Olivia Landreth, President of Texas Skate Mates; Catherine Marshall, President of OUTLaw; Ava Said, President of IGNITE; Jinjie Xu and Quinn Timmers, Co-Presidents of HangOut!; Taylor Schwartz, President of Texas DnD; Hannah Willard, President of the Mascot Program; Atharva Sinha, President of the Sustainability Investment Group; Lauren McKinney, President of Students Fighting Climate Change; Will Pratt, Co-President of the Graduate Association of Geography and the Environment; Erica Foster, President of the Environmental Justice and Ecotherapy; Shilpa Rumalla, President of Future Doctors of America; Maya Neicheril, President of the Texas Allied Health Student Association; Viana Phan, President of the Student Health Advisory Committee; Jacob Stambaugh, President of Texas Engineer World Health; Arinzechukwu Nwagbata, Co-President of the Health Careers Mentorship Program; Daisy Sierra, President of Global Dental Brigades; Meagan Alvarado, President of the National Alliance on Mental Illness UT; Alyssa Garza, President of Women in Aerospace for Leadership Development; Irene Ameena, President of Humanity First Texas.

UT students acting in blackface: Eugene Harris (standing, “On the Warpath”) and Alf Toombs. Photos from the UT Cactus yearbook 1911, p.236.

8. The Eyes of Texas song was first performed in 1903 by UT students who painted their faces black, to make money for UT Athletics by making fun of Black people. Newspapers reported that the audience laughed abundantly.

9. Even the student John Lang Sinclair, the author of the song, painted his face black that day, and he wrote that he looked “grotesque.Also he said he was hurt that someone commented that his clothing too looked “negroesque.”

10. Some people say: “I’ve always known the full history of the song,” or they say: “Everybody knows its history.” But that’s false. Whenever someone claims to know what “everyone” knows, it’s just a silly lie. And nobody knows the full history. It’s a process, the more we investigate it, the more we find out. Most people just don’t know the history of The Eyes, even if they’ve sung it countless times. For example, a poll was done by the former UT and NFL football player Rod Babers; in June 2020, he asked people on Twitter whether they knew that The Eyes of Texas had a “racist origin.” Almost 92% replied that they didn’t know:

The present article sheds more light on aspects of its history — which do confirm the reasons why many UT students, faculty, and alumni ask that it not be UT’s official song.

Our Athletes Reject the Song

11. On June 12, 2020, many UT Student Athletes likewise officially requested: “Changes regarding the entire black community at UT: The replacement of The Eyes of Texas with a new song without racist undertones. Lifting the requirement of athletes to sing the song.”

12. Some persons were supportive, for example:

13. But scores of reactions were critical. UT Football player DeMarvion Overshown, the 2020 Valero Alamo Bowl Defensive MVP, reported that he even received death threats over the song:

14. There are people who imagine that the complaints about the song were merely an unjustified byproduct of mass hysteria caused by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, in summer 2020. Such people claim that prior to that incident, Black football players had no problems with The Eyes of Texas. This is false. For example, Sam Acho is a professional football player. In support of UT’s 2020 football team, Acho wrote about how the song bothered him too, when he played for UT Austin in 2007–2010:

At UT, Sam Acho won the William V. Campbell Trophy, he won the Wuerffel Trophy (all-around excellence in athletic, academic, and community achievement), an ARA Sportsmanship Award, and was a National Football Foundation Scholar-Athlete, among multiple achievements.

15. Some people were very annoyed that Acho dared to criticize UT’s song. For, example, one replied:

16. Some people guess that Sam Acho must be lying: they choose to imagine that no evidence exists that anyone before June 2020 had any problem with the song. This fiction is easily falsified. For example, a national ABC News article, in 2009, reported that there were students at UT Austin who “boycott the song” because it was first performed at a minstrel show, in blackface, and was linked to Confederate General Robert E. Lee. As an example, the report quoted UT graduate T.J. Finley, who said: “At first, I was just so shocked that something like this could still exist,” so he stopped singing it.

17. The Orange Jackets was founded in 1923 as an honorary UT organization of female students dedicated to service. In addition to their labors volunteering in community service, the Orange Jackets became “official hosts of the University of Texas at Austin,” performing functions such as leading the singing of The Eyes of Texas on UT’s football field. They also sang it at other UT events and at their meetings. However, in fall 2017 they listened to concerns by members who preferred not to sing it because of its historical origins. Open, compassionate discussions led them to a vote, to decide whether to keep singing The Eyes at their meetings. On November 29, 2017, they decided to stop singing it at meetings. While accommodating the concerns of all members, the Orange Jackets continued the tradition of leading The Eyes at football games, until, in summer 2020 they officially discontinued that tradition and all their relations with the song. Nonetheless, they continue other traditions and participate officially in UT events. UT’s 2021 Report about The Eyes of Texas claims (p.48): “In UT service organizations, there is a closer relationship with ‘The Eyes of Texas’ through their commitment to serving the university. All of these organizations sing ‘The Eyes of Texas’ in a formal manner including at meetings, community events, and university sponsored events.” But really, this is not true of the Orange Jackets, and it is not true of all others either.

18. In 2018, UT’s Student Government debated whether to continue singing The Eyes of Texas song, given its racist origins. Jakob Lucas, a student Representative of the College of Liberal Arts, said that: “Unless anyone legitimately thinks that we should add a verse at the end where we address the systemic oppression that comes from this song … then we can’t address it; we can’t use it as a mechanism of education.” At the end of the meeting, they did not sing it. The Daily Texan, April 4, 2018.

19. Some students learn about the song’s origins before coming to UT. Mercy Ogunlade joined UT in 2018, and she heard The Eyes at a new student orientation event: “When I got to orientation, hearing ‘the eyes of Texas are upon you,’ it really freaked me out. I know where it comes from, and I think it’s really disrespectful.” Similarly, Kobe Boyce, became a member of UT’s football team in 2017, but he had learned about the song’s history in grade school, in Texas. So, years later, he did not sing it when he was a UT football player: “I didn’t even know the words. People knew it, some people were saying it, but I just threw my horns up. I just knew not to sing it.

20. Former UT football player Fozzy Whittaker (2008–2010) explained: “That song has a different meaning to me now that I know the origins and how it was portrayed at the very beginning. … But I’ve just never sung the lyrics after I found out about the history.The Athletic, March 18, 2021.

21. From 2011–14, UT football player Cedric Reed started 32 games as defensive end. He recalls: “I didn’t sing it, but if the camera panned on me, I’d just kind of move my lips and kind of go with the program, he said. “But that’s the old way of doing things.”

22. Tank Jackson played defensive line at Texas in 2011–15. He sang the song as a freshman, but the next year, upperclassmen suggested that he look up its history. He was then in “complete shock, and recalls: “I didn’t know where it came from. It was ignorance on my part,” he said. “Once I learned, it changed my mindset.” He didn’t sing it again.

23. Similarly, Caden Sterns, UT Football Team Captain, Academic All-Big 12 First Team 2020, has stated: “I won’t sing the song at all. I’m just being blunt. I can’t answer for everybody else. Nor do I want to make it about me. But personally I won’t sing the song.” ESPN, September 8, 2020. Some other football players too have said that they will not sing it.

24. The Texas Monthly reported: “For the majority [of football players], it was an easy call. If the song made their teammates uncomfortable, they wouldn’t sing it. ‘I love my teammates more than I love the song,’ said linebacker Cort Jaquess.”

25. UT Football player Joseph Ossai, Team Captain, All-America Honors from CBS Sports/247Sports/ESPN/USA Today; he has said: “It’s not that the athletes would be winning by getting the song removed and boosters would be losing. It’s about saying, ‘Is this morally right?’” Texas Monthly, April 2, 2021.

26. Robert Reeves is the Chief Technology Officer of Liquidbase, and he was the Director of Information Technology and the Wireless Startup Portfolio of UT Austin. He earned his BA and MS at UT Austin. He cherished signing The Eyes of Texas, to his little boy, as a lullaby, and later at football games. However, in June 2020, Reeves decided to that what matters more is how current students and athletes feel about the song:

Because it is now their school, not just mine or yours. The young men and women who represent us as Longhorns are now in the driver’s seat. And they are very good drivers. We cannot deny that same opportunity you and I had to black student athletes to find and define themselves and their school. We cannot deny that opportunity to any Longhorn. We should all be equal and valued on the 40 Acres.

Also in June 2020, Reeves wrote an email to UT’s President Hartzell, saying: “I’m serious as a heart attack about mitigating any fundraising dips that occur because of alums that don’t share our thoughts on diversity and inclusion. Though I do not think that will occur, you can count on me for donations and to personally rally the Longhorns that will support the 40 acres always.”

27. Sam Acho’s brother, Emmanuel, also played football at UT (2008–2011), and became an NFL player. Emmanuel Acho too supports the athletes’ request to remove the song:

“…about those statues, and about those names [of buildings]; but when it comes down to that song, things get a little dicey for a lot of people. … If they want to get rid of it, then that’s what these student athletes want to do. At the end of the day, they’re sweating out there, they’re risking their health out there; I still got a bum knee — not because of the NFL, because of my time spent at Texas. We primarily sing that song, outside of graduation, we sing that at athletic events. So if the athletes, if the people who have given the most, physically, emotionally, mentally — between study hall, between practices, between workouts, between class — if they’re sitting there collectively saying: ‘Hey, you know, we don’t feel strongly about this song,’ — it’s a song! I personally went to Texas and love Texas because of the people, a song doesn’t move me either way, but if it moves the student athletes, then, I support the student athletes. … now look at things from a different perspective, from a fair perspective, and say: ‘You know what? Maybe if I stood for this back in 1970, maybe I shouldn’t stand for this anymore. Maybe if I stood for this in 1980, maybe actually in 2020 this isn’t right.’ That would be my hope, my goal.”

‘The Eyes of Texas’ Continued Being a Minstrel Song for Six Decades

The Austin American, December 9, 1919, p.3

28. One way to try to dismiss the problem that The Eyes of Texas was created for a minstrel show, and was first performed in that racist comedy, is to arbitrarily imagine that it was only performed at a minstrel show once, but not again. But that’s not true. For example, in December 1919, UT’s Varsity Minstrels performed at the Austin Majestic Theater. The Austin American newspaper reported that after the opening music, “This was followed by the curtain raising upon the minstrel-men who led the audience in singing ‘The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You.’”

Four months later, in 1920, that same group of student minstrels joined UT’s Longhorn Band on a tour of six cities in Texas: Marlin, Waco, Dallas, Denton, Fort Worth, and Cleburne. In each city they sang The Eyes of Texas, even though a UT faculty committee had required that it not be sung. Nonetheless, the audiences loved the performances, and the Dallas News reported: “The minstrel was put across by the nonchalance and black-face skill of the comedians.”

29. UT’s Report on The Eyes claims that by 1920: “The song is fully integrated into all parts of university life.” (p.51) But this is incorrect. Instead, in 1920, UT’s faculty Committee on Musical Organizations had “banned,” “censored,” or “outlawed,” The Eyes of Texas to stop the Longhorn Band and blackface Minstrels from performing it on their tour of six cities, because, to the faculty committee, it did not represent UT well: it seemed “vulgar,” or “not dignified.” Its performance led to a trial by UT’s Discipline Committee. See “The Band Controversy,” The Daily Texan, April 21, 1920, pp. 2, 4. “Band Charged with Insubordination in Making Program,” Daily Texan, April 15, 1920, p. 1.

The Waco Sunday Tribune-Herald, May 12, 1929, p.4

30. To be sure, eventually The Eyes did become UT’s song. However, The Eyes was known also as “a minstrel song.” For example, in 1929, the Waco Tribune-Herald and The Austin Statesman both reported that many Texans were putting pressure on the State Legislature to reform the prisons, and so, with that aim, “all are chanting the minstrel song while looking in the direction of lawmakers, ‘The Eyes of Texas are Upon You.’”

Likewise, T.U. Taylor was Dean of UT’s School of Engineering when the song was first performed in 1903, and he, time and again, made efforts to collect, preserve, and convey its history. Thus in 1954 he told the Austin Statesman that The Eyes of Texas “was converted from a minstrel song into the University anthem.” Austin Statesman, March 4, 1954, p.4.

Throughout the 1940s, blackface Minstrel shows continued at UT Austin. These photos are from the 1940 Cactus yearbook, p.140.
The Rastus stereotype: promotional image for Rastus Cigars, from 1927.

31. In 1946, the Cowboy Minstrels beckoned students to attend their blackface show, as reported in The Daily Texan: “…a crooning Negro dialect coming over the public address system: ‘Rastus, who’s that lady I seen you with the other night?’ ‘Why, man, that wan’t no lady. That was a UT coed!’ This might be followed by jazz music and then the following: ‘Say, boy, what you gwine do tomorrow night?’ ‘Boy, I’m gwine hustle mah big feet over to the Cowboy Minstrels in Hogg Me-mo-rial Auditorium. I got mah fo’ bits too; been savin’ up for nearly a year!’ ‘Yassuh! Be there at eight o’clock!’” That night the Minstrel show began with the singing “Glamazons” (tall female students), and it included songs such as “It takes a long, tall, brown-skinned gal to make a preacher lay his Bible down,” “Diga Diga Do,” the Brown Sugar Sextet, the Chocolate Drop Boys, and, the show ended with the Glamazons singing “The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You.”

32. In 1950, it was still a joke to sing The Eyes of Texas in blackface. In November that year, in The Houston Chronicle, a commentary column on football told that, after having lost a bet, the Co-Captain of the Rice University Football Team, James “Froggie” Williams and the oil tycoon Dick Schwab sang The Eyes of Texas in blackface at the Quarterbacks Club. The newspaper columnist reported that the quarterbacks, Coach Jesse C. Neely, and “Everybody roared with laughter.”

Daily Texan, March 17, 1950, p.1

Meanwhile, UT administrators still did not stop the blackface Cowboy Minstrels. Unlike most student events, the Minstrel shows were among the few that incorporated administrators, from the beginning: in 1903 UT’s first Minstrel show was organized by UT’s Athletics Director, Frank Homer Curtiss, with the help of other faculty, and even in the 1950s, Dean Arno Nowotny was a frequent performer as “End Man,” Interlocutor, and more. UT administrators transmitted, facilitated, and validated very old racist views onto young White students.

Cowboy Minstrels at Hogg Auditorium; at the center, Bradley Bourland, past Student Body President, as Interlocutor. 1950 Cactus yearbook, p.212

Still, sometimes administrators were offended or grossed out by the Minstrels’ antics, but not about how they mocked Black people; instead, it was about their penchant for obscenity, immorality, and alcohol. In 1952, UT administrators placed the Minstrels’ show on probation. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that it was because of too many obscene jokes in this year’s presentation. UT Dean Jack Holland decreed that the Cowboy Minstrels should clean up their act, so he required to review their script three weeks in advance. The probation also decreed to bar from the stage any minstrel “who appears at the place of the performance with the odor of an alcoholic beverage on his breath.”

33. In 1954, the Supreme Court mandated that universities must enroll Black students. However, UT administrators deliberately schemed to obstruct, delay, and reduce the admission of Black students.

In 1955, the NAACP won a court order to stop the University of Alabama from banning Autherine Lucy, who they had admitted without knowing she was Black. In February 1956, she enrolled, thus becoming the first Black student ever enrolled a White public university in Alabama. Therefore, on February 6, riots broke out on campus, as a mob of more than a thousand White students protested in anger, throwing rocks at the car that drove Lucy to class. Therefore, administrators suspended Lucy (instead of suspending the violent White students). However, a UT student, Merrell Frazer, Jr., kindly spoke to Lucy by phone, inviting her to UT Austin, although it was not yet racially integrated either. In Student Assembly, Frazer supported a resolution to enroll students at UT, regardless of race. This was reported in newspapers, so days later, Frazer received a letter from the Ku Klux Klan, stating: “Don’t give up Texas to integration… The eyes of Texas are upon the integrators.

A female acting in blackface at the Minstrel show. Cactus yearbook 1957, p.279

34. In 1956, when UT began to accept enrollments of Black students, some of them complained that the UT minstrel shows should end, or at least, should not use blackface. UT administrators ignored their concerns. Yet the students persisted. In 1960, a group of Black students, members of the NAACP, White students, and UT faculty organized a petition to ask the UT administration and the Cowboy Minstrels to stop performing in blackface because it portrayed “the Negro as an undignified racial prototype.”

The Cowboys’ President replied: It has never occurred to us that these students would feel that the humor was directed at them. We think that the show plays more on the campus than on Negroes. That reply is similar to arguments nowadays defending The Eyes of Texas, by those who say that it was a joke directed only at a UT President, not at Black people.

35. However, the joke was on Black people too because: (1) The Eyes of Texas was written for a minstrel comedy, (2) its music, lyrics, and rhymes copied a song about Black convicts forced to work “All the live-long day,” on a railroad levee, (3) The Eyes was first performed by White students in blackface, (4) they were acting as a Black work gang on a railroad, (5) the people in the audience laughed abundantly, (6) the main line of the song “The eyes of Texas are upon you” originated from wartime words by and about General Robert E. Lee, as he led the armies of the slaveholding Confederate States in the Civil War, and (7) after it was first debuted in 1903, student minstrels continued to perform The Eyes for six decades.

Cowboy Minstrels in 1958; photo from the Cactus 1959 yearbook, p.203

36. Because of the protests and petition, an article in The Daily Texan, on November 10, 1960, agreed that the Minstrels should stop performing in blackface because it prolongs “a false stereotype of the American Negro as an unreliable, but somehow lovable, lazyman who spends his days ‘feshin’ fo’ catfesh’ and saying ‘yessuh, massa, yessuh’.” The writer noted that The Eyes of Texas too began as a joke, but didn’t ask that the it be removed. The next day, The Daily Texan printed comments from a survey of students. A junior engineering student said: “The Minstrels are symbolic. They’re a tradition you cannot destroy, and griping is causing more harm.” A sophomore education major said: “I like the Minstrels very much, and I don’t see anything wrong with them.” One freshman said, “I do not personally think the Minstrels make insulting stereotypes of the contemporary Negro. … It is entertainment.” A pre-med junior said: “People don’t laugh at the racial stereotypes. They laugh at the actors.” In the end, despite the petition, UT’s administrators chose not to stop the Cowboy Minstrels.

Students for a Democratic Society protesting the Cowboy Minstrels. The Daily Texan, November 11, 1964, p.1

37. As usual, the Cowboy Minstrels justified their racist shows by saying that it was for a good cause: the proceeds were to be donated. In 1964, the group Students for a Democratic Society carried out protests against the Cowboy Minstrels. Both White and Black students especially protested the use of black face paint in the minstrel shows. They picketed outside the Student Union, in front of the words etched on the wall: “THE EYES OF TEXAS ARE UPON YOU.” They held up signs that read: “BLACK FACE PROMOTES FALSE RACIAL STEREOTYPE.”

Protesting Minstrels in blackface in front of “THE EYES OF TEXAS ARE UPON YOU,“ etched on the Union wall. Photo from the 1965 UT Cactus yearbook, p.146

38. The day before the Minstrels’ performance, there was another demonstration. The protestors insisted that blackface Minstrels were crude racial stereotypes. The foreman of the Cowboys retorted: We don’t look at the minstrels as a racial slur. The show is a traditional thing. We make no reflection on Negro character.” Another rep said: Cowboy Minstrels is surely not meant to be derogatory to anyone in any way. Our sole intent is to make money for the Austin Council for Retarded Children.” One student, Bill Harding, wrote a letter to The Daily Texan, claiming that when a minstrel wears blackface and acts like a character called Rastus, he’s not being racist, because after the show, if the audience takes “anything at all away in the form of an image, it is the image of a white man in a black face called Rastus who was entertaining, and not a silly black man named Rastus. To think any less is to insult the intelligence of the men and women on campus.”

Despite the protests, the Cowboy Minstrels once again performed a racist comedy show at UT’s Gregory Gymnasium, on November 13, 1964. As noted in the Cactus yearbook (class of 1965) they performed “in the traditional all blackface.” The White student Betty van Wagoner was selected as their new Sweetheart, and then they sang The Eyes of Texas to her.

UT’s administrators never bothered to stop the blackface minstrels.

Instead, the mocking blackface acts finally ended because the students’ protests led the Cowboys to finally vote amongst themselves, so they decided to end the use of blackface in November 1965, after one more blackface show, in February of that year.

39. Two years later, in 1967, UT administrators removed Students for a Democratic Society from UT’s list of approved student organizations; because they protested too much. And even in 1969, racist UT administrators had managed to deter any Black students from being on the football team. UT Longhorn football became the last all-White team to ever win the national championship in the United States, in 1969.

40. The Eyes was the presentable, fraternal twin of UT’s Minstrel shows, they were born together, they grew up together. Since 2020, multiple negative reactions of White people against Black students’ requests that The Eyes be changed, are eerily similar to the reactions of White students, in the 1960s, against Black students’ requests that blackface UT Minstrel shows should be changed. For example, and the dates have links to the originals:

1964 — “about 1 per cent of the student body tries to run the business, social life, and entertainment of the other 99%. … What difference do the Cowboy Minstrels make to [the Black student who complained] Miss McAfee? She has the option of attending or staying at home. I couldn’t care less what she does in her spare time, so why should she complain if 9,000 people enjoy themselves at a minstrel show.”

2020 — “Less than 6% of our current student body is black. The tail cannot be allowed to wag the dog….. and the dog must instead stand up for what is right. Nothing forces those students to attend UT Austin. Encourage them to select an alternate school ….NOW!”

1960 — “Well if we get rid of the Cowboy Minstrels [comedy], we might as well get rid of jokes about Aggies, bald-headed men, movie stars, and politicians.”

2020 — “Getting rid of The Eyes of Texas is ridiculous. Let’s get rid of all the college songs because someone who is a racist sang it at a sporting event. Might as well get rid of the national anthem because it has been sung by people who were racist.”

1964 — “We don’t look at the minstrels as a racial slur. The show is a traditional thing. We make no reflection on the Negro character.”

2020 — “There is nothing racial about ‘The Eyes of Texas.’ I don’t see any racial intent in this song. Let’s not imply something that isn’t there.”

1960 — “The Minstrels are symbolic. They’re a tradition you cannot destroy, and griping is causing more harm.”

2020 — “Important detail about the Eyes of Texas. It’s a symbol, a tradition about the University community embracing pressure and striving to represent Texas with excellence.”

White Millionaires Threatened UT

The Cowboy Minstrels show, Nov. 13, 1964. Cactus yearbook of 1965, p. 146

41. In June 2020, millionaire donors became very annoyed that Black athletes and students were trying to remove The Eyes of Texas. The Texas Tribune obtained many of their emails. First UT released only 300 emails. But the Texas Tribune inquired about missing emails, and so, UT later released another 550 emails. (Why did someone at UT not release all such emails at once? All such documents are public records by Texas state law. Was this obstruction?) Dozens of donors “explicitly threatened to stop supporting the school financially,” in those emails. White millionaire Kenneth Aboussie had planned to sign paperwork on a $1 million donation, but he threatened that he would not donate if the song were changed. Another millionaire, whose name was redacted by someone at UT, stated that he planned to give “a sizable portion of my estate” to UT, but that he would not if the song is removed.

Email published by The Texas Tribune, “UT Needs Rich Donors,” March 1, 2021.
1954 UT Cactus yearbook, p.283

42. Also, the White millionaire Bill Stanley rejected the idea of removing the song, and he wrote: “If black athletes really want to improve the general situation for the black community, they should work within themselves.” Other rich White men also wrote emails “to stop the movement” of the Black athletes, as written by the White oil tycoon Bud Brigham. Among them were also the oil and gas millionaire Mickey Klein, Scott Ingraham, John Adams, and the White football player Colt McCoy. According to the Texas Tribune, “Stanley wrote in a letter in mid-June criticizing Hartzell’s leadership for meeting with the athletes, which was forwarded to Hartzell by donors nearly a dozen times.” The rich men communicated with Hartzell, some met with him, or with UT’s Vice President for Development. When the Texas Tribune tried to contact Bud Brigham, Colt McCoy, Bill Stanley, and Kenneth Aboussie, they did not respond. Why not? Likewise, President “Hartzell declined to be interviewed for this story.”

1963 UT Cactus yearbook, p.98

43. Around two weeks after the rich donors made their demands, President Hartzell announced on July 13, 2020 that UT Austin would keep the song. This decision was made only by Jay Hartzell — there was no inclusion of UT’s Faculty Council, UT’s Staff Council, UT’s Student Government, UT’s Senate of College Councils, or UT’s Graduate Student Assembly. This was not shared governance. In my personal opinion, on that day, July 13, 2020, The Eyes of Texas stopped being our school song. Having the official, institutional privilege to speak for UT by himself, Hartzell’s decision would henceforth be described as “UT’s decision.” Did the angry rich donors influence Hartzell? When The Texas Tribune asked him, “Hartzell would not say whether donors played a role in his decision to keep the song.” Why not?

1949 UT Cactus yearbook, p.355

44. There were also racist threats in the emails about the song. The Texas Tribute quoted examples: “It is sad that it is offending the blacks. As I said before the blacks are free and it’s time for them to move on to another state where everything is in their favor.” (Someone at UT protected the identity of that person by redacting their name.) Donor Larry Wilkinson wrote: “Less than 6% of our current student body is black. … Nothing forces those students to attend UT Austin. Encourage them to select an alternate school ….NOW!

UT Students & the Longhorn Band Speak Up

45. Student Government and the Senate of College Councils had expressed their discontent with the song. Then the athletes too voiced their requests. Next, many members of the Longhorn Band dared to say that they would not play the song. Student Trent Walker, a Longhorn Band trumpet musician, explained: “it was kind of out of a fear, that’s why we didn’t speak up about it at that time. When the football team came out with their statement we felt like we had more of a backing to come out and do this.” Dallas Morning News, August 16, 2020.

46. In August, the news reported that: “At least four of 49 Longhorn Band section leaders and all 11 members of the newly founded organization, LHBlacks told The Daily Texan they too will not play the song.” Albert Trevino, the leader of the snare drum section, said that he no longer wants to play the song, because of its origins: “It’s not something that has the wonderful context we once associated with it. It feels kind of like a burden at this point.” Student Ally Morales, drum major in the Band, explained it to The Houston Chronicle: “I didn’t want to be a part of or initiate a school song that excludes any members of the university, whether it be current students, alumni, professors, family of students, or just fans. … It’s rude and condescending for a white man [President Hartzell] to advocate for reclaiming the racist history of the song, when it’s not his to reclaim in the first place. The only people that can reclaim the song, if they choose to, are black students and alumni of the university.” Houston Chronicle, August 17, 2020.

47. Shelby Stewart, a Houston Chronicle reporter, complained that UT “will hear our cry for justice and equality, but won’t do the things that we’ve asked for. While these gestures are nice, the school’s fight song will continue to be a painful reminder of the school’s racist past.”

48. In September 2020, students started another petition, on Change.org, titled: Boycott the Eyes of Texas. Organized by Rebecca Chen, Peyton Young, José A. Castillo, Camille Johnson, Connor O’Neill, Faith Castle, and Jacey Rosengren, they stated: “Current students don’t feel pride when singing a song that is meant to bolster school spirit. It is our responsibility to listen to the voices of students.”

They created a video: https://youtu.be/OcUaao2Lhuw

49. Here are some of the respondents’ comments in the petition:

50. UT student Connor O’Neill labors for Rewrite, Not Reclaim, a movement to enable more people to voice their opposition to the song, and to create a new song. O’Neill himself is White, yet he commented: “It’s making a lot of white people uncomfortable because it’s their tradition. But if your tradition is rooted in racism, how welcoming is that for all of the other people that are around you?

51. The Director of UT’s School of Music, Professor Mary Ellen Poole, met with the leaders of the Band, and she concluded: “After meeting with student leadership of the Longhorn Band and the Butler School, I can confirm that they as leaders are uncomfortable with continuing to feature ‘The Eyes of Texas’ as a representation of their values.” Therefore, she gave to band members the opportunity to opt out of the song.

52. The song is also opposed by multiple faculty. For example, Kathleen McElroy is the Director of UT’s School of Journalism and the G.B. Dealey Regents Professor in Journalism. In an article in the Austin American-Statesman, she explained:

“Now imagine being surrounded by 100,000 people [at UT’s football stadium] singing a song originally intended to dehumanize an already oppressed population of Americans, to make them feel less than whole. … Some African- Americans like me were uncomfortable singing it but did so because of our respect for UT and a belief in its students. We knew its first performance was likely in blackface, but more recent diggings, like a Burnt Orange Nation piece, reveal the song’s historical anti-blackness. It’s not a song that invites unity. A few believe its stalker vibe — at best creepy for 21st century women — warned slaves: ‘You cannot get away.’ The tune’s core originated as ‘The Levee Song,’ an 1894 minstrel show song whose lyrics are unprintable.”

53. Many other faculty also reject the song, in one way or another. Here are some of the faculty who added their name to UT students’ 8 Demands for Transformative Change, including: “Discontinue any use of ‘The Eyes of Texas’ at all UT related events, and compose a new official school spirit song with the inclusion of BIPOC composers and musicians”: Patricia Clayton, Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering; Ramesh Yerraballi, Electrical and Computer Engineering; Juan P. Maestre, Environmental Enginnering; Michelann Quimby, Human Development and Family Sciences; Snehal Patel, Internal Medicine, Dell Medical School; Phillip W. Schnarrs, Population Health, Dell Medical School; Liberty Hamilton, Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences / Neurology, Dell Medical School; Pascale Bos, Germanic Studies; Alyssa Ray, Natural Sciences; Chris Montes, Radio-Television-Film; Anna Hornsby, Office of Undergraduate Research; Caitlin Ziegert McCombs, Development and External Relations; Elena Caceres, Physics; José Alvarado, Physics; Richard Hazeltine, Physics; Anna Tenerani, Physics; Joe Neeman, Mathematics; Sam Raskin, Mathematics; David Ben-Zvi, Math; John Morán González, English; Carol MacKay, English; Heather Houser, English; Minou Arjomand, English; Snehal Shingavi, English; Lisa Moore, English; Director, LGBTQ Studies; Ana Schwartz, English; Elizabeth Richmond-Garza, English/Comparative Literature; Chad Bennett, English; Patricia M. Garcia, English; Oscar Cásares, English; Julie Minich, Mexican American and Latina/o Studies, and English; Diane Davis, Rhetoric; Davida Charney, Rhetoric and Writing; Annie Hill, Rhetoric and Writing; Karma R. Chávez, Mexican American and Latina/o Studies; Marisol Lebrón, Mexican American and Latina/o Studies; Lilia Raquel Rosas, Mexican American and Latina/o Studies; Caroline Faria, Geography / Women’s and Gender Studies; Sarah Nicholus, Women’s and Gender Studies; Christen Smith, Anthropology /African and African Diaspora Studies /Women’s and Gender Studies; Pavithra Vasudevan, African & African Diaspora Studies; Ashley Farmer, African and African Diaspora Studies; Althea Woodruff, Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk; Wendy Domjan, Psychology; Kelly Houck, Middle Eastern Studies; Jo Hamilton, UTeach — Natural Sciences; Alberto Martinez, History; Megan Raby, History; Martha Newman, History, Religious Studies; Tracie Matysik, History; Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra, History; Stella Offner, Astronomy; Caitlin Casey, Professor of Astronomy; Paul Shapiro, Astronomy; Brendan Bowler, Astronomy; Judit Gyorgyey Ries, Astronomy; Beverly Acha, Studio Art; Clare Donnelly, Art Education; Kristin Lucas, Art; Mark Kovitya, Fine Art; Sandra Olsen, Fine Arts; Katy McCarthy, Art and Art History; Hillary Procknow, Core Curriculum/Texas Success Initiative; Sean Carney, Mathematics; Megan Conner, Journalism, Educational Psychology; Penny Green, Sociology; Lauren Gutterman, American Studies; Eden Blesener, Social Work; Alejandra Martinez, Project Librarian; Alison Kafer, WGS/LGBTQ Studies/English; Graciela Gomez, Faculty; Anthony Di Fiore, Anthropology; Craig Campbell, Anthropology; Brent Crosson, Anthropology; Jennifer Sosa, History; Luanne Stovall, Studio Art; Esther Calzada, Social Work; Starla Simmons, LCSW, Social Work; Kerry Knerr, American Studies; Mary Ellen Poole, Butler School of Music; Kenneth R. Fleischmann, School of Information; Dean Young, Creative Writing/Poetry; Noah De Lissovoy, Curriculum and Instruction; Scott Niekum, Computer Science; Janet M. Davis, American Studies and History; Tyler Coleman, Arts and Entertainment Technologies; Jayme Walenta, Geography/Sustainability Studies; Kamran Scot Aghaie, Middle Eastern Studies; Jen Moon, Molecular Biosciences; Madeleine Redlick, Communication Studies; Chad Seales, Religious Studies; Felicity Muth, Biology; Tony Gonzalez, Plant Molecular Biology; Ilya Finkelstein, Biochemistry; Sarah Nguyen, Chemistry; Lauren Webb, Chemistry; Katie Dawson, Theatre; Danica Obradovic, Library/Archives; Danna Gurari, Information. Next, here are the first signers of a faculty petition that started three days ago (April 26): Fernando Lara, Architecture; Benjamin Ibarra-Sevilla, Architecture; Sarah Lopez, Architecture; Martha Menchaca, Anthropology; Fred Valdez, Anthropology; Enrique Rodríguez-Alegría, Anthropology; Sofian Merabet, Anthropology; Marina Peterson, Anthropology; Jason Cons, Anthropology; Aaron Sandel, Anthropology; Circe Sturm, Anthropology; Anthony Di Fiore, Anthropology; Courtney Handman, Anthropology; Kamran Asdar Ali, Anthropology; Craig Campbell, Anthropology; John Hartigan, Anthropology; Anthony K. Webster, Anthropology; Denné Reed, Anthropology; William O’Leary, Anthropology; Kathleen Stewart, Anthropology; Hiʻilei Julia Kawehipuaakahaopulani Hobart, Anthropology; Heather Hindman, Asian Studies / Anthropology; Gautami Shah, Asian Studies; Robert M. Oppenheim, Asian Studies; Eric Tang, Black Studies, Center for Asian American Studies; Luis E. Cárcamo-Huechante, Native American and Indigenous Studies; Miriam Solis, Community & Regional Planning; Douglas Foley, Curriculum and Instruction, Anthropology; Keffrelyn Brown, Curriculum and Instruction; Haydeé Marie Rodríguez, Curriculum & Instruction; Anthony L. Brown, Curriculum and Instruction; Flávio Azevedo, Curriculum and Instruction; Noah De Lissovoy, Curriculum and Instruction; Devin Walker, Curriculum and Instruction, DDCE; Kevin Cokley, Educational Psychology, African and African Diaspora Studies; Germine H. Awad, Educational Psychology; Tiffany Whittaker, Educational Psychology; Rebecca Callahan, Educational Leadership and Policy; Terrance L. Green, Educational Leadership and Policy; Angela Valenzuela, Educational Leadership and Policy; Yasmiyn Irizarry, African and African Diaspora Studies; Christen Smith, Center for Women’s and Gender Studies, Anthropology, African and African Diaspora Studies; Snehal Shingavi, English; Annika Olson, African and African Diaspora Studies; Samantha Pinto, English, African & African Diaspora Studies, Women & Gender Studies; Shirley Thompson, African and African Diaspora Studies, American Studies; Cary Cordova, American Studies; Jeffrey L Meikle, American Studies; Kerry Knerr, American Studies; Julia Mickenberg, American Studies; Randolph Lewis, American Studies; Caroline Faria, Geography and the Environment, Women’s and Gender Studies; Rebecca Maria Torres, Geography and the Environment; Carlos Ramos-Scharrón, Geography and the Environment; Lauren Gutterman, American Studies, History, Women’s and Gender Studies; Janet M. Davis, American Studies, History; Alberto Martínez, History; Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra, History; Tracie Matysik, History; Megan Raby, History; Steven Mintz, History; Emilio Zamora, History; Monica Muñoz Martinez, History; Adam Clulow, History; Joshua Frens-String, History; Abena Dove Osseo-Asare, History; Juliet E. K. Walker, History; Benjamin Brower, History; Jen Ebbeler, Classics; Thomas Jesús Garza, Slavic and Eurasian Studies; Gloria Gonzalez-Lopez, Sociology; Leticia Marteleto, Sociology; Sharmila Rudrappa, Sociology; Nestor Rodriguez, Sociology; Deborah Parra-Medina, Mexican American and Latina/o Studies; Carma Gorman, Design; Robin Moore, Music; Paul Bonin-Rodriguez, Performance as Public Practice, Theatre and Dance; Noah Isenberg, Radio-Television-Film; Adriana Serrano, Radio-Television-Film; Nancy Schiesari, Radio-Television-Film; Stuart Kelban, Radio-Television-Film; Mirasol Enríquez, Radio-Television-Film, Mexican American and Latina/o Studies; Janet Staiger, Radio-Television-Film, Women’s and Gender Studies; Curran Nault, Radio-Television-Film; Madhavi Mallapragada, Radio-Television-Film; Deborah Eve Lewis, Radio-Television-Film; PJ Raval, Radio-Television-Film; Anne Lewis, Radio, Television, Film; Mira K. Lippold-Johnson, Radio-Television-Film, UTLA Program; Simon Quiroz, Radio-Television-Film; Tom Willett, Radio-Television-Film; Micah Barber, Radio-Television-Film; Mary Beltrán, Radio-Television-Film; Ya’Ke Smith, Radio-Television-Film; Robert Quigley, School of Journalism and Media; Wenhong Chen, School of Journalism and Media; Dhiraj Murthy, School of Journalism and Media; Paula M. Poindexter, School of Journalism and Media; Donna De Cesare, School of Journalism and Media; Joseph Straubhaar, School of Journalism and Media; Courtney Byrd, Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences; Cesar Salgado, Spanish and Portuguese; Jossianna Arroyo Martínez, Spanish and Portuguese; Lauren Peña, Spanish and Portuguese; Lorraine Leu, LLILAS, Spanish and Portuguese; Hector Dominguez-Ruvalcaba, Spanish and Portuguese; Galen Strawson, Philosophy; Michelle Montague, Philosophy; Miriam Schoenfield, Philosophy; Sinan Dogramaci, Philosophy; Jeffrey C. Leon, Philosophy; Mark Sainsbury, Philosophy; Sahotra Sarkar, Philosophy, Integrative Biology; Shelley Payne, Molecular Biosciences; David Hillis, Integrative Biology; Tony Gonzalez, Molecular Bioscience; Laura I. Gonzalez, Integrative Biology; Gwendolyn M. Stovall, Texas Institute for Discovery Education in Science and Molecular Biosciences; Nancy Hazen, Human Development & Family Sciences; Aprile D. Benner, Human Development and Family Sciences; Nicole B. Perry, Human Development and Family Sciences; Michelann Quimby, Human Development and Family Sciences; Maria M. Arredondo, Human Development and Family Sciences; Julie Zuñiga, School of Nursing; Donna Rolin, School of Nursing; Gayle Acton, School of Nursing; Chris Abbyad, School of Nursing; Alexandra Garcia, School of Nursing; Daniella Rempe, Geosciences, Geology; Ginny Catania, Geosciences; D. Nicolas Espinoza, Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering; Jorge Prozzi, Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering; Raul Longoria, Mechanical Engineering; Pawan Kumar, Astronomy; Stuart Reichler, College of Natural Sciences; Joshua Roebke, College of Natural Sciences; Diana Zamora-Olivares, Chemistry; Andrea Gore, Pharmacy; John H. Richburg, Pharmacy. (This petition is new, to join, if you’re faculty, please write to almartinez@austin.utexas.edu).

54. On September 24, 2020, the Dean of UT’s School of Fine Arts stated in an official letter that although some band members “feel that they cannot in good conscience continue to perform it,” regardless, When the Longhorn Band performs, it will be expected to perform The Eyes of Texas. Once again, the students’ serious requests were being ignored.

55. In order to ascertain whether the Longhorn Band had enough student support to play The Eyes, the Director of the Band, Scott Hanna, carried out a an internal survey, in October 2020. Reportedly, the result was that roughly half of the Band members were unwilling to play the song: “the band is fairly divided in opinion. Therefore, the Band lacked enough musicians to even perform the song: “Based on (survey responses), we do not have the necessary instrumentation, so we will not participate in Saturday’s [football] game,” wrote the Band Director. Right after this news was printed in The Daily Texan, however, President Hartzell stated that he had “never expected” that the Band would play at the football game. Instead, a recording of The Eyes was played over loudspeakers.

56. After the UT Football players issued their public statement against The Eyes, the Head Coach Tom Herman kindly and fairly respected their concerns, so he told them that they would be allowed to not stay on the field to sing the song if they chose not to. Many players accepted that offer, and stepped off the field at the end of games. However — the Athletics Director, Chris Del Conte gave contradictory “expectations”: he repeatedly said that the team should remain on the field as a unified group while the song plays. Also, Del Conte fired Coach Herman, despite the team’s good record and despite his five-year contract. To replace him, Del Conte and Hartzell hired Steve Sarkisian, with a contract guaranteeing that he be paid at least $34.2 million in six years. Coach Sarkisian immediately contradicted Coach Herman, as Sarkisian declared: “‘The Eyes of Texas’ is our school song. We’re going to sing that song. We’re going to sing that proudly.

Some football players were not pleased. As noted earlier, for example, DeMarvion Overshown commented that being required to sing The Eyes felt worse than the hateful messages and death threats he had received:

Meanwhile, however, Mary Ellen Poole, the Director of the School of Music, informed the music students that they can opt out of performing the Eyes of Texas. However, the Dean of Fine Arts wrote a contradictory declaration: “When the Longhorn Band performs, it will be expected to perform The Eyes of Texas.” In contrast, President Hartzell said that “Nobody” will be required to sing the song. Weeks later, however, UT announced that all members of the Longhorn Band will be required to play the song. Any band members who do not want to play The Eyes of Texas will be removed from the Longhorn Band, but may join some other band.

Student Athletes Were Threatened

57. Rich donors remained upset that football players were protesting the Eyes of Texas. So, UT Athletics officials met with the football players in October 2020. Athletics Director Chris Del Conte stated his expectation that the athletes all had to stand “together as a unified group for ‘The Eyes’.” Football players told The Texas Tribune that they were told that they had to stay on the field postgame for the song because donors were upset by athletes protesting it. The linebacker DeMarvion Overshown recalled: “They said y’all don’t have to sing it. But y’all have to stay on the field.” He added: “These are some high-power people that come to see you play and they can keep you from getting a job in the state of Texas. It was shocking that they said that. To this day I still think back to the moment. They really used that as a threat to get us to try to do what they wanted us to do.”

58. Similarly, the defensive back Caden Sterns recalled: “My teammates and I got threatened by some alumni that we would have to find jobs outside of Texas if we didn’t participate.” A third player confirmed this, but he asked for anonymity for fear of retribution by the university and donors.This athlete said that the officials who conveyed the donors’ threats were the Head Coach Tom Herman and Chris Del Conte, the Athletics Director. (Del Conte later denied it, to the Texas Tribune.)

59. Similarly, The Texas Monthly reported: “One [UT] official at the [football team] meeting expressed his concern that the 2020 Longhorns might have trouble getting jobs in the state after graduation. ‘I felt pretty threatened by that,’ said a receiver. ‘I mean, getting a job after football is really important to me,’” said the student athlete.

60. UT Football player Juwan Mitchell, Big 12 Commissioner’s Honor Roll, wrote: “For ONCE, we decide to voice our opinions about things that can help better the community. It seems they only got our front but not our backs . . . with that being said, I do not feel comfortable representing The University of Texas.

61. At the Texas State Capitol, Anthony Collier, President of the Texas Law School Student Bar Association, replied to the reported threats by donors: “We can’t afford to place profit over people, and bow to pressure from bigoted donors. We must do what is right and remove this racist song immediately.”

62. UT administrators hardly supported the Black athletes: “In interviews with dozens of coaches, athletic department officials, university administrators, and current and former Longhorn players, Texas Monthly found that the players were largely left to navigate the turmoil by themselves. Said one source inside the athletic department, ‘Some people used these players, and others just sat on the sidelines and didn’t give them any help when they needed it.’”

63. The rich donors also threatened to undermine fundraising campaigns, and to boycott football games, cancelling season tickets. However, an NFL Agent, who instead believes in supporting athletes, commented that such “offended” donors should release their suites in UT’s football stadium:

Dixie sheet music cover, depicting minstrels, ca. 1900.

64. If UT demotes The Eyes, it need not be a crisis. It would not be the first time that a university changes a musical tradition.

For many years, for example, the marching band of the University of Mississippi played the beloved southern anthem, “Dixie.” Just like UT’s song, Dixie was composed for a blackface minstrel show, in 1859. It was also played at the inauguration of the Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, in 1860. In recent years, however, the administrators at Mississippi have labored to remove Confederate symbols. So, in 2016, Ole Miss finally removed Dixie from the playlist of its marching band. Their Athletics Director announced that the band would create a more modern show “that does not include Dixie and is more inclusive for all fans.” He explained: “It’s time to move forward,” and that the university wanted to ensure that they really follow the “core values of the athletic department, and that all people feel welcome.” Their decision was appreciated by Black students and praised by the NAACP.

The Eyes in Recruiting Black Athletes

65. In March 2021, former UT football cornerback Rod Babers was a guest in the Hook’Em podcast show, On 2nd Thought. Among other things, he and the hosts discussed The Eyes of Texas controversy, arguing that football coaches from other universities will use the song’s racist origins as a tool against UT, to recruit football players. Hear the discussion, or read the excerpts, below:

Transcript of excerpts:

Cedric Golden: “Let’s spring forward to recruiting, where it’s about to be used as a recruiting weapon. Will [Coach] Sarkisian be able to overcome these other coaches saying to momma and dad: ‘You can’t go down there [to UT Austin]. They’ll make your Black son sing that racist song.’ How do you overcome that?”

Rod Babers: “Yup, yeah. (Laughter) “Houston radio stations, Black radio stations, Dallas: already talking about it. And I agree with you 100%. If the schools aren’t already using it as a negative recruiting tool against Texas, they will. And Sark and his coaches better be ready for every question they’re gonna get when they go into a Black household or they gotta talk to a Black parent who wants to ask them about that song, and ask them why they’re going to force their players to sing their song, and: ‘Hey coach, how do You feel about the song? Do you think it’s a racist song? ’Cause I do, coach.’ You know what I mean, how do you deal with that?” …….

Cedric Golden: “I’m with you, that’s gonna be a BIIIIG talking point for other schools recruiting against Texas, I’d be using it if I was recruiting against Texas, and I would plant the questions, I would plant the seeds in those parents’ minds, I’d start planting the seeds: ‘Ask him what he thinks about The Eyes of Texas. Is he going to go out there and stand up for that racist song?’ You known what I mean? It’s just too easy, it’s too easy to use that against Texas. ……

Rod Babers: “When I was coming out in 1999, guys, I won’t name names but, you know, I had guys who were being recruited to Texas, whose parents were like: ‘I’m not letting my son go to that racist school! Texas is racist.’” …….

Kirk Bohls: “I don’t know if they teach the course Backtracking 101, at Texas? But I’m telling you, Rod Babers is not the only guy who has had to backpedal at that university, and that may be what Sark is doing. You see, I don’t even know if schools need to use it, cuz it’s been everywhere [in the news], and the history of bad racial relations between Texas and the African American community is very legendary, and it is well known. So, you know, the other coaches don’t have to bring them up, but yeah, we know they will.” ……

Cedric Golden “…but that song is NEVER leaving. We will all be dead. We will all be dead. And they will be like, humming [The Eyes]. That’s happening. And the thing that’s gonna kill me is: when a national recruit — has Texas as a finalist and just can’t pull the trigger. And then, when they ask him —[he replies] “I can’t go to that racist school.” So where are you going? — “Mississippi.” Really!? I mean, that’s gonna happen! That’s gonna happen. When people in Mississippi and Alabama say: ‘You can’t go to that racist school.’ Really?”

A Committee Studies the Eyes

66. Meanwhile, President Hartzell had created a committee to review the song’s history, but with no authority to remove or undermine the song. After six months, they completed their Report. When The Athletic reached out to Black football players to ask them about the Report, none of them replied. The only UT football player who answered a question from The Athletic about the Report was quarterback Sam Ehlinger, who is White.

67. UT’s Report reviews aspects of the history of the song, for over a century, and, on the whole, portrays its history in a very positive way. UT’s Report “surmises” that the intent of the song “was not overtly racist,” since the Report does not admit that the song was created for a minstrel show. Moreover, the Report omitted or ignored multiple other disturbing points presently evinced. For example, it does not confirm that its title and main phrase stemmed from words by and about General Lee; it does not mention that therefore it became a UT spirit song about Southern fighting pride; it does not mention that the song continued to be sung at UT blackface minstrel shows until the mid-1960s; it does not discuss the leasing of Black convicts (see below), nor the lyrics of The Levee Song, etc. At any rate, the decision to keep The Eyes had already been made by Jay Hartzell, eight months earlier, long before the historical evidence was available. But that is a problem: decisions should be based on the evidence, and should best be made after the evidence is available, especially at a Research 1 University.

68. The Black Student Athlete Alliance and UT’s Student Government issued a public statement on March 12, 2021: “we believe that the ‘Eyes of Texas’ originated with racist intent, and as such we align with students calling for its removal as the school song. … After reviewing the [UT] committee’s findings, we still believe that the correct course of action is to officially remove the current alma mater and implement a new, more inclusive song.”

Many students were very disappointed. One of them, P.J. Chukwurah explained it to The Texas Tribune:

“The fact is that it was literally debuted [the song] at a minstrel show of people with blackface. It was first used in a show that mocked Black people. And I understand people bond over it and whatnot, but at the end of the day, you just can’t change the meaning of it. … I am disappointed, which is what I feel on a daily basis, it feels like. Time and time again, we are constantly shown that we’re really not a priority to UT. And it’s fine, they run UT like a business. I’m a business major. … I know how UT operates. They need their donors, they need their money. But I feel like because of that, a lot of students feel like UT doesn’t really care about them.”

69. At the national level, UT’s Report was reviewed and rebuked by a sports columnist in USA TODAY:

“If you want to understand what privilege looks like, what ignorance looks like, how a group of highly intelligent people can be totally blind to racism, this part in the executive summary of the report outlining the facts it uncovered is telling: ‘These historical facts add complexity and richness to the story of a song that debuted in a racist setting,’ the report states, ‘exceedingly common for the time, but, as the preponderance of research showed, had no racist intent.’ … What the report does is definitively prove the song’s racist origins, but it also says those racist origins are irrelevant, when they are the core of the issue, and why so many find the song objectionable. … In other words, they are blaming the culture that produced the song, but not the song itself, which is a twisty piece of gymnastic cognitive dissonance that Simone Biles would adore. This is where the report completely invalidates itself and isn’t worth the megabytes it’s written on. … The problem is the report … proves what people who object to the song have been saying all along. That it’s racist. And it is. … It’s still embarrassing that a school administration puts so much effort into keeping the song, which is a relic, with its primordial origins cooked in the poisonous stew of white supremacy, minstrel shows and segregation. Just change the damn thing.” USA Today, March 9, 2021

70. Likewise, influential people in Austin voiced complaints about UT’s Report, for example:

71. In addition to the concerns voiced by many, it turned out that there were problems in UT’s Report. Personally, I was curious to read it because I wanted to know whether the song was written for the minstrel show, or whether it had been written independently of it, and just happened to be performed there for the first time. To me, this question mattered, because I thought that if it just happened to be sung at the minstrel show, then it was not necessarily rooted in racism. For example, if members of the Ku Klux Klan happen to sing Happy Birthday one day, years after the song was created, I don’t think that’s a reason to get rid of that song. However, when I read UT’s Report, I didn’t find clear answers to the questions I wanted: When exactly was The Eyes written? Who exactly were the first to sing it? Was the phrase “The eyes of Texas are upon you” based on a historical incident about General Lee? What are the primary sources?

72. So this is what I found. The phrase “The eyes of Texas are upon you” is what UT’s President William L. Prather copied about Confederate General Robert E. Lee: “The eyes of General Lee are upon you,” which was said about General Lee when the Texas Brigade was about to charge Yankee soldiers in the Civil War, on May 6, 1864.

73. Since “The Eyes of Texas are upon you,” was inspired by “The eyes of General Lee are upon you,” then the title of UT’s song is rooted in the Civil War. Historian John Reeves, author of The Lost Indictment of Robert E. Lee, writes that: “I believe the connection to a Civil War battle makes it more of a lost cause song, not less.” The Lost Cause is the belief that the Confederacy had moral and heroic reasons to fight the Civil War partly because slavery was moral and fair since Black slaves gratefully shared in the benevolent prosperity of their masters. UT’s President Prather admired General Lee, and at Lee’s funeral Prather helped carry his coffin. When he spoke to UT students in 1900, Prather quoted the Confederate marching orders: “Attention, Texas brigade! Forward! The eyes of General Lee are upon you!” and he added: “This day, young ladies and gentlemen of the College, I give you your marching orders for the session, ‘Forward! The eyes of Texas are upon you!’”

74. UT’s Report claims: “no primary source has been found connecting the phrase as something that Lee used.” They didn’t find it, but it does exist. “The eyes of General Lee are upon you,” was a paraphrase by Confederate General Gregg about words stated by General Lee himself; reportedly, Lee’s own words were: “The Texas Brigade always has driven the enemy, and I expect them to do it to-day. Tell them, General, that I shall witness their conduct to-day.” The primary source was Confederate soldier J.B. Polley in a letter of July 6, 1864, first published in Polley, “Texas in the Battle of the Wilderness,” Confederate Veteran 5, №6 (1897), 290. (People ask me whether UT’s committee replied to my findings about General Lee; I did write to several committee members five weeks ago, but so far, no reply about this.)

75. The genetic link between The Eyes of Texas and General Lee, in one way or another, was well known and celebrated, for decades. Some or many UT students and alumni took pride in knowing that President Prather’s motto had been inspired by General Lee. One example, among many: in 1927 the Daily Texan ran an article that said that for Texas Independence Day, students and alumni would get together to “for the purpose of celebrating heroes of our glorious past and to sing ‘The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You,’ and that “The very spirit of The Eyes dates back to General Robert E. Lee.” The song was an inspiring link to the 1860s. Here’s a clipping of that article’s title:

The Daily Texan, March 2, 1927, vol. 28, no. 129, front page. The student newspaper described itself as “First College Daily in the South.”

76. At least since the 1920s, The Eyes has been used as UT’s “fight song,” in one form or another, especially at football games. It’s appropriate, partly because the phrase “the eyes of Texas are upon you,” originated from the wartime words “the eyes of General Lee are upon you,” which were voiced in the Civil War by Confederate General John Gregg to the troops of the Texas Brigade on May 6, 1864, when they were about to charge against Yankee soldiers in order to rally against them. Those words echoed General Lee’s own words: “The Texas Brigade always has driven the enemy, and I expect them to do it to-day. Tell them, General, that I shall witness their conduct to-day.” And it worked — Texas soldiers, inspired by Lee’s words, leadership, and his presence, charged right into rifle fire and won that battle against the United States.

77. UT’s Report claims that: “‘The Eyes of Texas’ has always been a song about accountability.” But that’s not quite true. When it was created, in 1903, it was meant to be a minstrel joke: to make fun of President Prather’s bombastic admonition that “The eyes of Texas” are watching you all the time. In 1928, the UT Professor of English, Robert Adger Law, a Shakespeare scholar, described the song’s main phrase as being about “state-wide surveillance.” Also, in the 1920s, as noted above, the song and its main phrase were said to be about celebrating “our glorious past” in the heroic “spirit” of General Lee. Thus the song became UT’s spirit song, and UT’s fight song. In any case, to countless students and alumni, the song became about school pride, and love for Texas, even though, decades later, many did not know that it started as a minstrel joke based on Confederate fighting words about General Lee.

78. However, as a school fight song it is awkward to have spirited words rooted in the Civil War, especially since Texas and the Confederacy were fighting partly to defend the abusive institution of slavery. In 1865, for example, General Lee wrote: “the relation of master and slave…is the best that can exist between the white & black races.

How many universities have a sports fight song based on Confederate rallying words from a battle in the Civil War?

The Tower and the Capitol

UT’s Tower. Photo by Allison Fang, 2007. CCA 2.0

79. In March 2021, a Daily Texan article requested that UT should “Stop Playing ‘The Eyes of Texas’ from Belltower.” Its author, a biochemistry first-year student, Alexandra Purchatzke, argued that, “claiming the song had no racist intent does nothing to erase the pain many students feel when they hear it play from the tower every night.” A first-year Black student, Xavier Ingram too expressed his concern that the song is played every night: “I don’t think it’s necessary to play it from the tower. I have not been on campus, but I can imagine being on campus as a Black student, and all of the sudden the song plays and it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, this school is racist,’ ‘Oh right, they don’t want me here,’ ‘Oh right, slavery.’” Another student, sophomore Kevin Roberts, said that playing it is disrespectful to the many students who asked that it to be removed: “‘The Eyes of Texas’ is a tremendously hurtful song. The history and the heritage is not reflective of the current culture of the campus. Playing it goes to show that the current administration of the campus doesn’t care for the will of the students, because there is a sizable amount of students who would want the song to be removed. The fact that they are playing it every night is a huge slap in the face to those students.” The Daily Texan reached out to the group that decides which music is played from the Tower, the UT Guild of Carillonneurs, but they “did not respond to comment before the publication of this story.”

80. Former UT football defensive back Kobe Boyce, says: “Some shit just isn’t changing.” He refers to the song: “While all this was going down, it got me thinking like, long term, are they really going to change the song? No. Hell no. I knew they weren’t. Then they did all that other stuff just to make us feel better about not changing the song, they said we’re going to have these meetings and all this stuff. It was just like going around in a circle. I knew that circle was not going to end.”

Texas State Capitol, in January 2010. Photo credit: CCA 3.0 LoneStarMike

81. Despite UT’s Report, many leaders of the African American community in Texas remained convinced that the song is unacceptable. UT alumnus Dr. Gary Bledsoe is the President of the Texas National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He stated: “We’re opposed to it. People don’t understand; these students on campus don’t stand alone.”

Soon, speaking at the Texas State Capitol, Dr. Bledsoe declared [12:46]: “The Texas NAACP is proud to stand with so many great students and student organizations, concerned faculty and staff and alumni of the university, along with a number of concerned elected officials.… We oppose the decision by the President of the University of Texas to keep The Eyes of Texas as its official song despite the song’s racist origins and history and its humiliating impact on African Americans. … It’s unconscionable that UT officials have not thought about the matter from the impact on Black people, that the song is mired in the racist traditions of minstrel shows, and blackface-wearing White students. … The minstrels were performed to degrade and mock African Americans as a form of entertainment for White people. That is as racist as it gets.[51:20]“…it’s not whether you have to sing the song or not, it is humiliating and denigrating to require you to be there while others stand and sing, and pay homage or honor to a racist song, that’s the issue.”

82. UT student, Zion James, Parlamentarian of the Black Student Alliance at UT also noted: “‘It’s not the fact that we don’t have to participate in singing the song, it’s the fact that we have to even endure sitting, listening to the song … and be in the presence of a song that’s offensive to us,’ he said, referring to Hartzell’s insistence that the song is optional for students.” Dallas Morning News, April 2, 2021.

83. Bishop James W.E. Dixon, II, President of the Houston NAACP [54:00] explained: “the students who are speaking on behalf of a generation who understands that this is a watershed moment, that making the necessary adjustments in public content is a huge step forward for all of Texas and for the nation. It’s amazing that we are debating what’s obvious. … What we’re asking is not only common sense, but we’re asking for decency, and consideration, as our [NAACP] state President said: just having to listen to the song is insulting, demeaning, and degrading, and devaluing of our humanity. It should be an embarrassment to the institution.”

84. At the Capitol, Representative Ron Reynolds stated: “We are very concerned. … We want to have an environment at our state institutions that don’t perpetuate racism. We stand in solidarity with the state NAACP and the students.” He spoke for the Texas Legislative Black Caucus of elected Representatives.

85. Also there, the Black Student Alliance of UT students (established in 1980) clearly stated: “We denounce the usage of The Eyes of Texas as the alma mater of UT. The song holds a racist history with the Black community.”

Judson Hayden, Zion James, Alberto Martinez, Texas NAACP President Dr. Gary Bledsoe, Anthony Collier (center), Rep. Ron Reynolds, Lamont Ross, Nelson Linder

86. Anthony Collier is the President of the Texas Law School Student Bar Association, and he is the Regional Chair of the National Black Law Students Association. He explained: “You can’t redefine racism… Change can be discomforting and unsettling, but we will not sacrifice our humanity for your comfort. So to the UT administration: the eyes of Texas, this nation, and this world are on us.”

87. Judson Hayden, President of the Black Longhorn Band members, LHBlacks, stated [04:22]: “The university’s handling of this whole situation has been horrendous at best. It’s been made very clear that the university had a narrative, .... The university hasn’t offered any protection to its students who are calling out this injustice.

88. UT alumnus Lamont Ross, Minister of the Marsalis Avenue Church of Christ, in Dallas, explains [29:14]: “When you have a school song that has racist history, and it is sung at football games, basketball games; what it says to those who are in the stands who are people of color, those who are on the field, on the courts, and are people of color: ‘that we really don’t want you here’…. [However,] we don’t honor history that dishonors others. We recognize it, but we cannot continue to honor history that dishonors others.”

89. UT Law School alumnus, former state Senator, and now Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis stated [31:50]: “I support the Texas NAACP and the Texas Legislative Black Caucus in their disagreement with the University’s Report [about The Eyes of Texas]. I have been a longtime advocate of removing monuments and symbols of racism from public spaces in favor of including and honoring diverse figures whose efforts better reflect our shared values and aspirations.”

90. Travis County Commissioner Jeffrey Travillion [33:20] also fully supports the opposition to The Eyes of Texas song. He too is a UT alumnus.

91. Nelson Linder, President of the Austin NAACP [57:34] explained: “[UT Austin] has a Division of Diversity that comes out to our community, and talks about things like cultural competence, for the past ten years. If you talk about cultural competence, it’s not about whether or not you can justify something, it’s: Are you offending people? That’s the basic minimum. If something offends a group, the average human being says: ‘Ok, I get that.’ So, so long as the university, which calls itself ‘first class,’ can’t handle such a basic issue, this has enormous consequences all over this city. While we’re discussing Austin’s past of racism in this institution, which UT was a big part of, you would think a fight song would be very easy to address.”

92. Texas NAACP President Dr. Bledsoe, stated: “We ought to make it clear, that the report issued by the twenty-four-member committee should not be used to sanitize or justify a song that debuted in minstrel shows with lyrics that were embraced because of lore that connected them to Confederate General Robert E. Lee.”

93. Two days later, on March 31, 2021, the Black Presidents Leadership Council at UT, representing 49 student organizations, sent a letter to President Hartzell, complaining: “We, the leaders of the Black community, diametrically oppose the University of Texas at Austin’s current use of the Eyes of Texas …. On the day of the initial report’s release [about the song], hours of meetings were called last-minute to address its findings. Given that those findings are incomplete, we spent hours being gaslit, our intelligence being disrespected, and our time being wasted. Instead of listening to Black students, President Hartzell and the Board of Regents have placated all those who do not believe we belong here as equals. This is unacceptable.”

94. By April 1, 2021, “UT spokesman J.B. Bird said this week that Hartzell won’t be doing interviews.”

95. According to the TXSDC Population Projections, 11.9% of the people in Texas are Black. Yet statewide, Black students — exceed — that number as a percentage of all enrollments in universities and colleges: 13%. However, the total number of Black students at UT Austin is only 4.9%. (THECB Almanac 2020, pp.13, 38) That grossly unacceptable low number is the byproduct of structural measures devised and implemented by racist UT administrators since the 1950s to exclude Black students. UT Austin was established 138 years ago, yet every single President of UT Austin has been a White person, and non-Hispanic, sometimes without any equal employment opportunity for persons of color to even apply; and likewise, every Executive Vice President here has been a White person.

If Texas has eyes, they try not to see these problems. Such factors, and others, lead some people to say: “UT is racist.”

Working on the Railroad — All the Livelong Day

96. After the Civil War, slavery was prohibited, but in the Southern states, mostly, scores of Black persons were soon trapped again into servitude, as convicts. Many were subjected to brutal overexertions and gruesome abuses far worse than in slavery. First they were arrested for minor alleged crimes. A common charge was “vagrancy”: anyone could be arrested simply for standing somewhere, or for not having a job. Under vagrancy laws, a person could “be arrested at any time, haled before a justice of the peace, sent to the chain-gang for a period of from thirty days to a year.” Convicts were then rented to businessmen, who forced them to work without pay, “frequently under the lash, and his stay in the camp is determined purely by the ability of the overseer to cut off the avenues of escape.” To prevent escape, convicts were also chained together at the ankles.

In Florida, sometimes there was no reason to accuse a man of vagrancy, so then, “Warrants are sworn out against a negro or several negroes, charging them with the commission of some imaginary crime. The victims are arrested, haled into court, and bound over to await a trial.” Once convicted, or while awaiting trial, the detainee could be leased to a businessman, yielding super cheap labor for him, while giving that bit of rent money to the government. In Georgia, an elected official explained: “Every time a county convicted a negro, it put $450 into its treasury[by leasing the convict]. When a county wants $10,000 to build a court house what must it do? Convict twenty negroes.” Once convicted, in whichever state, they became leased to White businessmen. Prisoners were leased to plantations, and also to work in mines, on roads, and railways. The Atlanta Georgian newspaper reported:

“A volume could be filled with tales of these horrors — of shackles so tight they ate their way through skin and flesh toward the bone to finally clasp gangrened legs; of men being fed at 3 o’clock in the morning while chained to their bunks like beasts; of brutal beatings with victims falling at command where they stood in mud or water, to receive the lash of beatings so brutal that things unprintable happened; of convicts shivering all night in reeking wet and filthy clothes…”

Another Georgian news report stated: “The man who leases convicts to use them makes them work from the moment they can see in the morning until it is too dark to work at night…”

Black convicts crammed in cages in a work gang in North Carolina. Rob Neufeld, “Convict Labor Built the Railroads Here,” Citizen Times, March 3, 2019.

The abusive system of leasing convicts existed in Texas too. Prisoners were forced to work in coal mines, plantations of sugar or cotton, farms, railroad construction, etc. Reporter George Waverly Briggs worked in Austin, in a news bureau of The San Antonio Express, where he published a series of articles in 1908–1909 that described brutal abuses of convicts. He estimated that in Texas around 65% of the convicts were Black, some were White, many were Mexican. His reports of brutal abuses generated public outcry which led the Texas State Legislature, in Austin, to create a committee to do an official investigation. Their committee traveled to labor camps and interviewed many convicts and witnesses. Some people worried that the committee would “whitewash” the facts. However, they abundantly confirmed the gruesome atrocities that Briggs had reported. Convicts were chained, worked to exhaustion in repulsive conditions; they were diseased, herded like filthy stinking cattle, starved, flogged with heavy leather straps, or with bullwhips, and lacerated, scarred, tortured, and shot dead, or beaten to death, or whipped bloody to death. The Austin Tribune reported:

“The man who passes through several years of this hell on earth beneath lash and goad is all but justified in taking revenge upon a society which permitted it. Compared to this, African slavery was, so far as the individual concerned, a trivial thing, for the slave represented a large sum of money.”

In other words, slaveholders oftentimes had a self-serving restraint deterring them from abusing their slaves: that since slaves were their property, crippling or killing them constituted a monetary loss. Whereas, with leased convicts, sadistic White men could exploit them more brutally, to death, and then merely rent new replacements.

Chain gang of convict workers waiting for food, near Asheville, NC, 1915. Source: North Carolina Office of Archives and History, Raleigh; call no. N_71_9_145.

Moreover, the Texas legislative committee found that the worst conditions were in the Texas State Railroad Camp, as reported in the Austin Daily Statesman:

“The evidence will show that the brutality of the guards and sergeants in this camp exceeded that of any visited by this committee; that the convicts were poorly fed, half-clothed, and that they were driven to their work with the lash, like galley slaves, from early dawn until the sombre shadows of the evening put an end to their sufferings and gave them relief from the bull-whip. From a preponderance of evidence before this committee, I believe that every spike upon this road was driven in human blood, every tie and rail was put there at the barter of the bones and muscle of these poor unfortunates by men in high power in this great commonwealth.

The lyrics “I’ve been working on the railroad…” are the chorus of The Levee Song, a song about Black convicts forced to work on a railroad levee, “All de live-long day… Rise up so, so uh-ly in the mawn,” mocking their mispronunciations. The melancholy, lively melody of The Levee Song romanticized the grueling labors of convicts building railways. An article in Burnt Orange Nation explains it:

Its evolution from minstrel shows to a popular children’s song is an example of how white supremacy repurposed outdated oppressive social artifacts — when minstrel shows finally became unacceptable by the time of those landmark legal decisions, their music was replaced with whitewashed versions that maintained the core underlying elements of and references to white supremacy.”

97. In 1903, when UT faculty and students organized their first minstrel show, to have fun by mocking Black people, students Lewis Johnson and John Lang Sinclair chose The Levee Song to edit its lyrics to create The Eyes of Texas. At the show, students painted their faces black, and acted like a Black work gang working on a railroad, singing The Eyes of Texas: “…All the livelong day. The Eyes of Texas are upon you, You cannot get away. Do not think you can escape them, At night or early in the morn…” all while the audience and UT’s President laughed. Thus, UT’s alma mater song incorporates the indelible stamp of its origins: a song about the forced labor of Black convicts.

In 1910, the state government committee officially concluded that, in Texas, the penitentiary peonage system of convict leases was equal to the worst systems of brutal punishment in the entire world. Public pressures led the Texas governor to convoke a special session of the legislature; laws were passed to terminate the leasing of prisoners. Finally, it was abolished.

It’s also a Creepy Song

98. I started working at UT in 2005. When I first heard The Eyes, its lyrics sounded strange to me, for a school song: “You cannot get away, Do not think you can escape them,…” Occasionally, I commented about it, until one day someone explained: “It’s because it’s a joke; originally students wrote it to make fun of a UT president.” Ok, that made sense. Otherwise it seemed bizarre that the official school song was about surveillance: constant, lifelong, inescapable statewide surveillance.

I bring this up to note that many people have similar negative impressions about the lyrics, contrary to the new narrative that claims that the song has always been about accountability. A couple of the quotations above claim that the song felt “creepy.” Here are more examples, from Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit. These 100 examples are from 2009 until 2021, and there are many others:

99. Somewhere, a White guy finishes skimming this long list of problems, not quite reading all of them, and says: “I still don’t see what the problem is.”

100. When UT’s Athletics Director and White faculty and students created a UT minstrel comedy in 1903, apparently they did not consult Black people to ask whether they agreed that it was a good idea. When again they organized another UT minstrel show, in 1904, to make fun of Senegambians, Zulus, Hottentots, Bushmen, Puerto Ricans, African Americans, and other persons of color, apparently they did not consult them either, to ask how they felt about it. When UT administrators chose not to stop the Cowboy Minstrels in the 1950s and 1960s, despite Black students’ public complaints, UT administrators chose to disregard the concerns and petitions of the minority. And today, when conscientious students, Black athlete leaders, UT student government leaders, Longhorn Band members, Black civil rights leaders, Black legislators, faculty, staff, the NAACP, and others, have explained that The Eyes is not a unifying song, they’ve been disregarded — once again.

That is unacceptable. UT administrators must allow an open, inclusive, and public evaluation of The Eyes. This should not be UT’s official song. It is not a unifying song.

If you are a UT faculty member, you can please join our petition by emailing almartinez@austin.utexas.edu

____________________

Alberto A. Martinez, Ph.D.

Professor of History, Chair of the Independent Equity Committee, Fellow of the American Physical Society, Elected Member of the Executive Committee of UT’s Faculty Council, Elected Member of the Diversity and Inclusion Plan Task Force of the College of Liberal Arts, Elected Member of the Provost Search Committee.

____________________

Professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin. Author of six books, plus articles in Scientific American, The Hill, USA Today news, SALON, etc.

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