Austin, Texas – on Feb.3, 2023, the UT Student Government Association announced it had been approved by the Office of the Dean of Students to hold a non-binding referendum on the university’s alma mater: “The Eyes of Texas.” Voting is set to open at 12 a.m. on Feb. 27 and close at 5 p.m. on Feb. 28. The UT Student Government Association stated in an instagram post that voting will be held online.
The referendum comes after a long fight between students and administrators over the role and history of the song.
In June 2020, more than two dozen student athletes, during the nationwide protest over the death of George Floyd, posted a letter with demands for the University. Among those demands was the replacement of “The Eyes of Texas.”
The demand has since sparked a debate between students, alumni, and university administrators. So much so that the University formed a committee to study the history of the song: The Eyes of Texas History Committee.
The committee released a report on its findings in March 2021.
The committee addressed the origin of the song – which debuted at a minstrel show. The origin of the song, as the report states, started in 1902 when Lewis Johnson and John Lang Sincalur, two students believing the university “needed a school song,” decided to write “The Eyes of Texas.” The phrase, the report finds, drew inspiration from then-president William Prather’s favorite phrase, “the eyes of Texas are upon you.”
The report addressed allegations that “The Eyes of Texas” took inspiration from Confederate General Robert E. Lee who was “thought” to have stated “the eyes of the south are upon you,” as dean of Washington College.
The allegation, the committee found, comes from a 1938 memoir by retired engineering dean Thomas Ulvan Taylor. The committee, which identified “multiple errors in Taylor’s remembrance,” found no primary source connecting the phrase to “something that Lee used.”
The committee concluded that “there was a very low likelihood that the phrase originated with [Lee] and was instead a message of…accountability to the students and faculty.”
The committee went on to also state they “found no evidence the lyrics were intended to show nostalgia for slavery and instead, found facts that supported the song’s message of accountability.”
However, some on campus are not satisfied with the report’s findings.
The UT Student Government Assembly voted 25-1 on Feb. 7, 2023 in support of A.B. 12 to condemn “The Eyes of Texas.”
“Students of diverse backgrounds,” student government argues, “have come across several racist symbols on campus and have been subjected to discrimination from their peers and the community.”
They charge the university with neglecting “to provide security and comfort for the [Black, Indigenous, People of Color] community,” and argue that it “has an obligation to respond and demand action.”
In the bill, the student government cites the song being first performed at a minstrel show as a reason for controversy. Student government then goes on to argue that the lyrics’ origin were inspired by “Confederate Brigadier General John Gregg of Texas, who often said ‘the eyes of General [Robert E.] Lee are upon you.’”
Student government also cites an alternative report from UT history professor Alberto Martinez which claims that the original report “has multiple merits…it also has defects, including the account of [the song’s] origins.”
Martinez argues that the lyrics were, in fact, inspired from General Robert E. Lee. Martinez contends that President Prather’s phrase “the eyes of Texas are upon you,” was inspired by an account of General Lee he had read about. The account goes that, during the Battle of the Wilderness, General Lee ordered General Gregg of Texas to charge at the enemy. The account states that Gregg commanded, “Attention, Texas brigade! Forward! The eyes of General Lee are upon you!”
The Texas Horn reached out to the Dean of Students, Co-Chair Helen Getachew, and Co-Chair Adrian Tristan for comment, but, as of publishing time, we have not received a response. We will update accordingly.