Four takeaways from university’s report on ‘Eyes of Texas’ fight song

When Sam Ehlinger remained on the field — "The Eyes of Texas" playing, the quarterback's hands in a “Horns Up” salute — without his Texas Longhorns teammates following their 53-45 loss to rival Oklahoma last October, it set off a firestorm from donors and alumni.

In the wake of the country’s racial reckoning in 2020 after police killings of Black people, Texas athletes had organized and called on the administration to confront its history. That included the popular school song “The Eyes of Texas,”  which has been accused of carrying racist undertones.

Players ignored the song starting during the 2020 season, but Ehlinger’s actions that day brought the “Eyes” back into the spotlight and ignited a controversy that led to Tuesday’s 95-page university report from a 24-person committee about the origins of the song and it's place in the modern university. 

Here are four takeaways from the report:

Despite likely blackface, ‘no racist intent’

“The Eyes” debuted at a minstrel show on May 12, 1903, the report found. Minstrel shows (also known as a minstrelsy) was a form of racist entertainment popularized during the 1800s that featured performers, mostly white, in “blackface.” This particular minstrel show, according to the report, was a fundraiser for Texas’ track and field team.

The performers at this show were “almost certainly” white singers in blackface. However, the report stopped short of saying the song itself was racist.

“The research leads us to surmise that intent of the ‘Eyes of Texas’ was not overtly racist,” the committee determined. “However, it is similarly clear that the cultural milieu that produced it was.”

All a joke?

An article in The Daily Texan, the school newspaper, ran on Nov. 30, 1922, under the headline “'Eyes of Texas’ Considered Joke When Introduced” and stated that the entire song was meant to poke fun at former school president William Prather, who led the school during the song’s debut. It was apparently well received at the time and, two years later, the song was performed at Prather’s funeral.

"These historical facts add complexity and richness to the story of a song that debuted in a racist setting, exceedingly common for the time," the committee asserted. 

No connection to Robert E. Lee

While anecdotal evidence tied the song’s title to a common phrase spoken by former Confederate general Robert E. Lee — “the Eyes of the South are upon you” — researchers at Washington and Lee University and the committee found no supporting evidence of Lee’s words serving as a link or inspiration.


The committee published 40 official recommendations — ways to educate alumni, the student body and others via website, videos, presentation, music or display about the history of the song.

“It has become clear that without facts and clarity, there will still be potential for division,” the report stated. “Even with this report, that divide may remain — but it will be framed by facts grounded in history, rather than assumptions and narratives without factual basis.”

Contributing: Brian Davis, Hookem

Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.

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