To the Administration of the University of Texas at Austin and its Student-Athletes:
On March 5, 2021, the President of the University of Texas at Austin Jay Hartzell released a statement on the University’s renowned alma mater, “The Eyes of Texas,” regarding the origins of the song that we play at sporting events and other university functions. He stated that a report from the Eyes of Texas History Committee, tasked to investigate the song’s origins and its original intent, is scheduled to release this coming Tuesday, March 9 (if warranted, the author intends to respond to the findings as soon as they are made available to the public domain).
Since the senseless killing of George Floyd on Memorial Day 2020, there has been an outcry for radical change, especially regarding race relations across American society. With this came a tidal wave of significant alterations to everyday things such as historical monuments, food products, television shows, and now, even school songs such as ours. This tidal wave is often referred to as “cancel culture,” and its sole aim is to eradicate everything, even the most minute of things, that people may otherwise deem as offensive or racially motivated. To the dismay of many (myself included), there have been widespread calls from UT student-athletes to replace the University’s alma mater, “The Eyes of Texas,” with a different song that would appear to be more “racially inclusive,” especially in the wake of a recent discovery that the song was performed for the first time in a minstrel show with some of the performers in blackface. I now would like to present and articulate an argument in support of the Eyes of Texas and why it would not be a very wise decision to cave into political correctness to only satisfy the masses.
Now, it is worth acknowledging that although it might be true that the song might have been performed at a minstrel show for the first time, this does not in any way, shape, or form imply that the song was originally written for a minstrel show. Therefore, it is worth revisiting the song’s history as is perpetuated by the Ex-Students Association of the University of Texas (Texas Exes). The first few words to the song, “The Eyes of Texas are Upon You,” was a phrase coined by one of the university’s earliest presidents, William Prather. Prather was a graduate of what is now known as Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. At the time it was still known as Washington College, and its president at the time was General Robert E. Lee, whose name would eventually be added to the university. Lee would almost always finish his speeches with the phrase, “The Eyes of the South are Upon You,” thereby implying to his students that the Southern United States was expecting the graduates of that college to go on and do great things in life. By the time Prather arrived onto the Forty Acres as the university’s president, he borrowed the phrase in similar speeches he gave at university functions, but to the liking of the new state he was in, “The Eyes of Texas are Upon You.” The eventual composers of the song, Lewis Johnson and John Lang Sinclair — both of whom were members of the Longhorn Band — put pen to paper and after early drafts and sketches of potential songs for the university, they ultimately came up with the current lyrics we know of today and set it to the tune of, “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.” It would be performed for the first time at a minstrel show at the old Hancock Opera House on West Sixth Street (off-campus!), where it would receive a standing ovation by all those in attendance, including President Prather. After a commencement address to the graduating seniors that same year (June of 1903), President Prather used the phrase again to the enthusiasm of the graduating class, and thus, our alma mater was born.
Since that time, the Eyes of Texas has been proudly sung by the university’s students, faculty, alumni, fans, donors, athletes, and coaches at every official university function since then, such as sporting events, commencement ceremonies, benefactor luncheons, alumni reunions, etc. So how then, did we arrive at this point? How, suddenly, did a point of pride and unity that brought entire generations of Longhorns together of every race and nationality come to be vilified virtually overnight by some within the overall student body to where it has now become a point of contention to justify the change to where it will eventually become a victim of the so-called “cancel culture” that our society is experiencing? The answer is precisely that, cancel culture. More specifically, the new cancel culture invigorated by the senseless death of George Floyd. But I call upon the incumbent president of the University, Jay Hartzell, to stay vigilant and not cave in to the pressures of this hysteria surrounding the alma mater.
Many of the student-athletes advocated not only changing the alma mater altogether, but also demanded that they no longer be required to sing the alma mater before and after games at all. It should be duly noted, however, that many of these student-athletes that are now advocating for these changes are largely the same ones who proudly lifted their Horns in the air to our alma mater and sang along with the fans in attendance only a year ago today. This was, in fact, the common denominator among all student-athletes of all races and nationalities, from the football team’s first letter winner Julius Whittier and Heisman Trophy winner Earl Campbell to basketball star T.J. Ford, track star Sanya Richards-Ross, and even Olympic gold medalist Joseph Schooling (who is from Singapore), for the past 121 years (and hopefully, counting). Now, it seems as though a song that once used to unite us is now divisive and full of hate, and anyone that dares to sing that song with pride must now hereafter be treated as an outcast to society? How can it be conceivably possible that a small historical tidbit of our school song now could cause the entire song to be viciously condemned for eternity solely on the premise of race and race relations as part of a wider movement that is, as was mentioned before, the “cancel culture?” What level of sensitivity have we come to? How much lower can we stoop?
Just imagine, for a moment, someone who is now a fully-grown adult but in his teenage years would abuse drugs and alcohol, dropped out of high school, and seemed like his world had halted to a dead end until he realized he hit rock bottom and started to turn his life around. He would then go on to get a GED, enroll at a community college, transfer to a four-year university, graduate with a degree, and have a well-paying job. Should he be viewed upon as a complete failure just for his past mistakes even despite his comeback in life? The answer would be a resounding no, since this method of understanding the situation is completely unfair to the person being analyzed here. Not dissimilarly, we have here in front of us our alma mater. Yes, she had her complex beginnings, and they can be easily misunderstood, but over time, it has come to be loved and appreciated by all who either identify closely with The University of Texas in some way or have some recognition of the university’s unique and storied traditions. In fact, our traditional in-state rival, Texas A&M University, briefly mentions our alma mater in their fight song, the “Aggie War Hymn.” On top of this, the Texas Department of Public Safety has road signs with the phrase imprinted on them, atop the silhouette of a Texas Ranger, reminding Texas drivers to drive safely. As far as the immediate impact on UT would be concerned, giving the Eyes the axe would mean altering the design of the UT Class Ring so that the phrase can no longer be said, nor let alone serve to remind Texas Exes everywhere that upon graduation from this very institution, they are expected to go on and do great things in the service of their families, communities, state, and country, the University of Texas Longhorn Band would have to find something else from scratch to perform as part of their repertoire, and perhaps the most damning consequence of them all, the original manuscript of the Eyes of Texas will no longer be on display inside the Etter-Harbin Alumni Center on campus here at the University of Texas. To the student-athletes of the University of Texas who are advocating and pushing for this change, be honest: if there was any knowledge of the Eyes of Texas being performed at a minstrel show on Sixth Street, why wasn’t there any uproar years (and even decades) ago from past students, staff, and fans? How did you arrive at an “a-ha” moment when it came to something like this? How could it be that such actions that were not taken by university administration warrant not standing in front of fans before and after every game, especially when starting quarterback Sam Ehlinger was standing by himself after the Red River Showdown in Dallas for the song out of the same love for the university especially when the rest of the team did not do the same? How did this become a public relations nightmare to such a degree that the Office of the President Jay Hartzell was inundated with phone calls and (to a far worse extent) hate mail over that debacle? We have to look at the consequences from a more practical standpoint, if we jettison our current alma mater, would the Texas Department of Public Safety cease to use the opening sentence on road signs to promote public safety on our city streets? Would it also mean that our maroon-donning rivals can no longer use the same stanza not just to poke fun at their rival, but also as a contention of pride in their own university? Or, figuratively speaking, did the former drug addict & alcoholic I previously brought up as an example never fully recover from any of his addictions? These are the things we have to weigh considerably when it comes to these kinds of profound changes that are being considered by the President’s Eyes of Texas History Committee, because I firmly believe, certain things in this life simply are not meant to be changed, regardless of the origins of the past, it is the force of tradition that unites us all, not as students of different races, but as Longhorns with a common, shared purpose: to transform lives for the benefit of society, as it is inscribed on the side of the Main Building as the University’s Core Purpose, and that What Starts Here Truly Does Change The World.
To conclude, I would like to pose some final questions: when a cause for concern is a catalyst for emotions, does it pass what is referred to as the “sniff test?” Do the emotions of the present circumstances warrant a drastic change in perception of what is constantly referred to on our campus as “culturally accepted norms?” In short, do the ends justify the means, or is this just another case of the means justifying the ends? We can do better, and we must do better, therefore I have no doubt that our great university’s best days are only ahead of us, but we cannot get there soon enough if this hysteria continues. Therefore it is imperative that we preserve our beloved alma mater for future generations of Longhorns who will walk through our campus halls, and that it will continue to unite generations of Longhorns — both young and old — ‘til Gabriel blows his horn.
Daniel Villalva is the Former Copy Editor for The Texas Horn. He is 23 years old and originally from Houston, Texas. Daniel is a Sport Management major here at UT Austin, and he enjoys writing for The Texas Horn because it is a tremendous gateway to disseminate his thoughts and opinions on topics such as sports, politics, and history. Some of his hobbies include talking about those things and especially watching sports on TV.