Donors and alumni have threatened to pull financial support from the University of Texas if the school gives in to pressure to remove its alma mater song, “The Eyes of Texas,” which is deeply rooted in racism.
Last year, in the wake of the unjustified police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, student athletes demanded the University make several changes, including renaming campus buildings and replacing the school song, which they referred to as racist and offensive.
“The Eyes of Texas” was written in 1903, and since then it has been tradition for students to sing the song before and after all UT sporting events. Some of the lyrics include, “The Eyes of Texas are upon you, 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. The eyes of Texas are upon you. Til Gabriel blows his horn.” At first glance, one could argue the lyrics themselves are not racist. However, according to UT Professor Dr. Edmond Gordan, the song was satirical and was performed at minstrel shows where White performers wore blackface.
“‘The Eyes of Texas’ also derived from Confederate commander Robert E. Lee saying the phrase, ‘the eyes of the south are upon you,’” Gordan added. “This saying was then made popular by the University’s former president William Lambdin Prather.”
According to a report from The Texas Tribune, many of the University’s donors support “The Eyes of Texas” and do not see anything wrong with its origins, or how it may impact the Black community. The publication released emails sent between the University and its donors.
Larry Wilkinson, a donor who graduated in 1970, said, “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!”
“It’s time for you to put the foot down and make it perfectly clear that the heritage of Texas will not be lost,” said another donor, whose identity was redacted by the University. “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.”
Despite calls for reform, the song’s history, or the racial undertones affiliated with the alma mater song, the University decided to side with its donors and keep “The Eyes of Texas,” insisting the controversy would serve as a teachable moment.