Nearly 180 faculty members at the University of Texas at Austin have signed a petition demanding the school stop using The Eyes of Texas as its anthem.
Calling out the century-old song’s racist undertones, the petition argues that the song is a knock-off of another song about Black convicts forced to work “All the live-long day” on a railroad levee. The main line, “The eyes of Texas are upon you,” are the words of General Robert E. Lee, who led the armies of the slaveholding Confederate States in the Civil War.
The petition called “8 Demands for Transformative Change,” launched by UT students last year in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests, has been signed by 13,000 people so far.
On Sunday, UT History Professor Alberto Martínez sent out an email saying that hundreds of UT faculty had decided to join the protest by signing the student-led petition, and that faculty will not attend this year’s graduation ceremony unless the university confirmed the song wouldn’t be played at the event.
Reasons Behind the Petition
A recent article published by Martínez entitled 100 Problems in ‘The Eyes of Texas’ lists 100 reasons why the song is divisive, arguing that the song has “a racist origin” and “it was sung in blackface until the 1960s.”
Soon after the petition against the school anthem gained momentum last year, UT President Jay Hartzell assigned a committee to study the song’s origins and historical use. The 59-page report released in March concluded that while the song did premiere at a 1903 minstrel show, it was not meant to disparage any race and had “no racist intent.”
A world-class university should have a song that unites its students, community, and alumni. Despite thousands of objections, @UTAustin President @JCHartzell decided to keep the racist song in July 2020. 100 Problems in "The Eyes of Texas." https://t.co/RIa4Cw65vn
— Ernesto Mercado-Montero (@mercadomontero) May 4, 2021
As a result, the school decided the UT Band would continue to play the song following football games. The decision caused fierce division among students and staff, prompting the school to seek a compromise. Finally, it was decided that a separate marching band would be formed by fall 2022 for those opposed to playing the song.
UT professor Kevin Cokley believes it is an “imperfect solution” to the problem because it does not address the core issue that the university decided to keep a song that he believes is “incredibly problematic with its racist overtures.”