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UT Austin finds 'no racist intent' behind school song, will keep it as anthem

A University of Texas at Austin committee said it would keep "The Eyes of Texas" as its alma mater, but would allow students to choose not to sing it.
Horizontal image University of Texas at Austin clock tower
The University of Texas at Austin released a report this week on its alma mater "The Eyes of Texas," examining the song's lyrics and historical use.nkbimages / Getty Images

The University of Texas at Austin school anthem, accused of being racist due to its alleged ties to the Confederacy and minstrel shows, was found by a committee to have "no racist intent" and will still serve as the school's alma mater.

In October, after accusations from some students that "The Eyes of Texas" was racist, the university created a team consisting of more than 20 students, faculty and staff members to investigate the song’s history.

The investigation culminated in a 59-page report released on Tuesday that determined the university would allow students to choose not to sing the alma mater and would be more transparent about the song’s racist past in the future.

In the report, the committee said that the “intent of ‘The Eyes of Texas’ was not overtly racist,” but said that the sociopolitical conditions that produced the song were racist.

“There is not absolution nor is there vindication,” professor Richard Reddick, who chaired the committee, said Tuesday, according to The Texas Tribune. “This is a complicated story. You can't really parse out this is clean and clear."

Reddick said the song was an opportunity to engage in difficult conversations.

"It's important that we take the time to engage deeply with each other across generations to really understand, 'How has my personal experience, my personal journey through life oriented me to think about the song, what it represents and it symbolizes?'" he said, the newspaper reported.

Part of its troubled past included the song’s alleged ties to Confederate General Robert E. Lee, the report said.

The report said university president William Prather, who served from 1899-1905, saw Lee as “clearly a beloved figure” and frequently attributed the song’s signature phrase to the Confederate leader. The committee, however, did not find any evidence connecting Lee to the school’s alma mater, the report said.

One of the most troubling aspects of the study was the song’s debut during a minstrel show in 1903, the report said. School performers “presumably in blackface” sang the tune during a fundraiser for the school’s track team, but the report said the song was not written in minstrel dialect and was not composed as a minstrel song.

Instead, the report said the tune was intended to “affectionately parody” a signature line of Prather, who was a guest at the show.

During the late 19th and early 20th century, minstrel shows were theater performances that used racist tropes performed by mostly white people wearing Blackface.

When Prather unexpectedly died two years later, the song was performed at his funeral where it “evolved into an anthem,” according to the report. The anthem was later performed by students at sporting events beginning as early as 1915, according to the report’s timeline.

The report added that other allegations about the connection between the song’s lyrics and slavery appeared to be unfounded.

The committee’s report came in the wake of student protests demanding that the university get rid of the alma mater over the summer. In July, the university said in response that it would rename school buildings and symbols, but said it would continue to keep “The Eyes of Texas.”

Last week, The Texas Tribune reported that at least 75 donors emailed UT-Austin president Jay Hartzell threatening to stop supporting the school financially if the school got rid of the anthem.

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

Among the report’s other recommendations were developing a course about the song’s history and introducing more context about the song during orientation.

The committee said in its report that they hoped its findings were a “catalyst” in the right direction for the university’s reckoning with racism both past and present.

“One of the unanimous agreements lies in our committee’s deep belief in the university and our continued hope for demonstrated progress on social issues that affect our country,” the report said.

After all, “the eyes of our university, our state and our country are watching our collective actions,” the report said.