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‘No racist intent’ behind song ‘Eyes of Texas,’ university-commissioned report finds

Fans sing "The Eyes of Texas" after a basketball game
Longhorns fans sing “The Eyes of Texas” after a Sept. 12 game in Austin. A University of Texas report found the song had “no racist intent.”
(Chuck Burton / Associated Press)

The University of Texas’ long-awaited report on “The Eyes of Texas” has found that the school song has “no racist intent,” but the school president said athletes and band members will not be required to sing or participate when the song is played at games and campus events.

The 58-page report, released Tuesday, was commissioned last year by school President Jay Hartzell after a group of Texas athletes, most notably football players, demanded the school drop the song as part of racial injustice protests.

The issue erupted into a tempest of fan outrage when football players chose to leave the field instead of taking part in the traditional sing-along with fans after several games. Some fans sent emails to Hartzell warning the school would lose financial donors.

A 24-person panel charged with studying the song’s origins, lyrics and history determined it was rooted in a message of accountability and striving toward excellence.

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“These historical facts add complexity and richness to the story of a song that debuted in a racist setting, exceedingly common for the time, but, as the preponderance of research showed, had no racist intent,” the report states in its executive summary. “‘The Eyes of Texas’ should not only unite us, but hold all of us accountable to our institution’s core values,” it said.

Written in 1903 and sung to the tune the tune of “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” the song is an old standard in Longhorns country. For decades, it has been sung after games and graduation ceremonies and is a popular sing-along at weddings and even funerals

It has also been a sore subject for decades for some minority students. The title was taken from a favored saying of a former school president who had reportedly mimicked remarks by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. The panel determined there is a “very low likelihood” the line originated with Lee.

The song was routinely performed by musicians in blackface at minstrel shows, but the panel reported that it does not appear to have been composed as a minstrel tune.

The panel was not charged with making a decision on the song’s future. Hartzell, with the strong backing of the school’s Board of Regents, had already decided the song would stay.

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“This report gives us a common set of facts for more conversations,” Hartzell said during an interview prior to the report’s release. “It’s possible the committee could have uncovered something that could have caused us to reconsider. It did not.”

One of the few issues still to be determined was campus participation, particularly among Longhorns athletes. New football coach Steve Sarkisian has previously said his team will sing the song “proudly” after games per tradition.

The report included a recommendation that students not be required to sing the song.

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


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