University of Texas athletes want traditional ‘Eyes of Texas’ song replaced due to racist history

UT has previously attempted to address racist policies in its history

FILE - In this Nov. 10, 2018, file photo, Texas players sing "The Eyes of Texas" after an NCAA college football game against Texas Tech in Lubbock, Texas. A group of University of Texas football players and athletes across several sports on Friday, June 12, 2020, urged the school to rename several campus buildings, change the traditional school song and donate a percentage of athletic department revenue to organizations supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. (AP Photo/Brad Tollefson, File) (Brad Tollefson, Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

AUSTIN, TexasUPDATE: Interim president Jay Hartzell said Monday the song will remain in its current form, however, it will be sung moving forward “with a redefined vision that unites our community.”

ORIGINAL: Here’s why you may have seen posts trending on social media over the weekend about the University of Texas song “Eyes of Texas.”

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A group of University of Texas football players and athletes across several sports called on the school Friday to rename several campus buildings, change the traditional school song and donate a percentage of athletic department revenue to organizations supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.

UPDATE: University of Texas renames football field, but keeps ‘Eyes of Texas’

The letter said it was sent on behalf of the Longhorn “student-athlete body.” It said the football team will participate in all required team activities ahead of the upcoming season, but players would not aid in recruiting future players or participate in alumni events.

The two-page, unsigned note posted on social media accounts of dozens of Longhorns athletes noted the school’s motto of “What starts here changes the world." It said the group was moved to issue its call for campus changes after protests erupted nationwide following the death of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police.

“The recent events across the country regarding racial injustice have brought to light the systemic racism that has always been prevalent in our country as well as the racism that has historically plagued our campus,” the statement said.

“We aim to hold the athletic department and university to a higher standard by not only asking them to keep their promise of condemning racism on our campus, but to go beyond this by taking action to make Texas more comfortable and inclusive for the black athletes and the black community that has so fervently supported this program,” the letter said.

Dozens of football players marched with coach Tom Herman last week from the campus stadium to the state Capitol in honor of Floyd.

The players said they want the school to address their concerns with campus action or a plan by the start of the fall semester on Aug. 26. It wasn’t immediately clear if the group has a leader or spokesman.

“I am always willing to have meaningful conversations regarding any concerns our student-athletes have,” athletic director Chris Del Conte said. “We will do the same in this situation and look forward to having those discussions.”

The letter said the players want the school to rename several campus buildings named after state and school officials with ties to Texas era of Jim Crow laws and segregation.

The players also want Texas, which has one of the wealthiest athletic departments in the country, to contribute 0.5% of annual revenue, slightly more than $1 million based on most recent figures, to black organizations and the Black Lives Matter movement.

The letter also called for Texas to stop using its traditional song “The Eyes of Texas,” which has been criticized for its connection to minstrel shows with characters in blackface in the early 1900s. The song is regularly sung at nearly every organized campus event and players in all sports gather as a team to sing it after every game.

“I think people are amazed that the past isn’t really so much the past,” associate professor of African and African Diaspora Studies at UT Edmund T. Gordon said Friday, according to “It’s right there in front of us, but we just don’t know.”

Gordon went on to explain that Former UT President William Lambdin Prather, who served from 1899-1905, began saying ‘The eyes of Texas are upon you’ as a sign off during his speeches on campus.

The quote is a variation of civil-war era Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s saying “The eyes of the South are upon you.”

“Students, as students will do, decided to make fun of that and created a satirical song that have words that were appropriate to the University of Texas,” Gordon said. “Those are the words of the song, and they put it to the tune of a well-known song, which was ‘I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.’”

The lyrics are as follows:

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

The group of student-athletes also wants a portion of Royal-Memorial Stadium to be named after Julius Whittier, the first black varsity football player at Texas. Whittier, who died in 2018, was a freshman on the 1969 national championship team, the last all-white squad team to win a national title. Whittier didn’t play that season because freshmen were ineligible under NCAA rules.

Texas has previously attempted to address issues surrounding some of the Confederate figures and racist policies in its history.

In 2010, the school removed the name of a former Ku Klux Klan leader from a dormitory and in 2015 removed a statue of former Confederate president Jefferson Davis. In 2017, the school removed several more statutes of Confederate figures, including Gen. Robert E. Lee.

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