University of Texas Says 'Eyes of Texas' Song Not Racist After 18K Signed Petition to Keep It

The University of Texas said Tuesday that its controversial school song "The Eyes of Texas" does not have racist intent, months after more than 18,000 people signed a petition to keep it.

The song, which was first performed in 1903 by white people in black costume makeup—better known as "blackface"—came under scrutiny last summer as students and athletes viewed its historical connotation as having racist ties.

In June, the university's football team, the Texas Longhorns, released a statement calling for the song to be discontinued amid racial justice protests across the country.

The players also sparked outrage among alumni for choosing to leave the field rather than taking part in singing the song with fans after several games. In response, a group of alumni and fans created a petition with 18,872 signatures to keep the song and celebrate is as a symbol of "unity."

Following the months-long controversy, a highly anticipated 58-page-report commissioned by school President Jay Hartzell and released on Tuesday, determined that the song has "no racist intent."

"Historical facts add complexity and richness to the story of a song that debuted in a racist setting, exceedingly common for the time, but, as the preponderance of research showed, had no racist intent," the report stated. "'The Eyes of Texas' should not only unite us, but hold all of us accountable to our institution's core values."

The Eyes of Texas
The University of Texas said Tuesday that its song "The Eyes of Texas," has "no racist intent" after student athletes protested its history last summer. Here, Texas Longhorn players stand for the song after defeating the West Virginia Mountaineers at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on November 7, 2020 in Austin, Texas. Tim Warner/Getty Images

For more reporting on this topic, see below from Newsweek's Dan Cancian:

Routinely played before and after each Longhorns football game, "The Eyes of Texas" is set to the tune of the folk song "I've Been Working on the Railroad," which was released in 1894. Nine years later, University of Texas student John Sinclair first performed the Texas-specific song he had himself written.

Sinclair, the editor of the school's Cactus yearbook and a member of the university band, wrote the song at the request of fellow band member Lewis Johnson who felt the university needed a school song and he first performed it in May 1903 at a Varsity Minstrel Show.

At the time, minstrel shows regularly featured white characters in blackface to portray plantation slaves. African American characters were regularly depicted as ignorant and the shows perpetuated the notion black people were inferior to their white counterparts.

Despite making its debut at a show with racial connotations, the song has become inextricably linked with the university and is regularly performed at major occasions.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

It has also been a sore subject for decades for some minority students. The title was taken from a favored saying of a former school president who had reportedly mimicked remarks by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

The panel was not charged with making a decision on the song's future. Hartzell, with the strong backing of the school's Board of Regents, had already decided the song would stay and insisted that did not undermine the report's credibility.

Hartzell reiterated the song will continue to be played at games and events.

One of the few issues still to be determined was campus participation, particularly among Longhorns athletes. New football coach Steve Sarkisian has said his team will sing the song "proudly" after games but the report included a recommendation that students not be required to sing it.

"Nobody has been, or will be, required to sing the song," Hartzell said.

"That's going to be going forward the way we continue to operate. We hope that as people go through the report, read through the facts, they'll find ways to participate in some way. Whether it's the case of the athletes standíng on the field, or the fans in the stands as we sing, there's going to be no punishment, no mandate, no requirement if people choose not to participate."

Hartzell said he planned to meet Tuesday with the football team and other athletes.

"They started this, they should get to hear about the report first," Hartzell said. "I hope we'll get more to a point of mutual respect where if you choose to sing and I don't, we don't necessarily judge something about each other in a stark way."