Photo: Longhorn Band Student Association
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Band members at University of Texas are taking a stand against their school fight song.
Multiple organizations on the schools campus have been pushing for a change in the alma mater, starting with athletes. In June 2020, a group of UT athletes wrote a letter requesting that players be no longer forced to sing “The Eyes of Texas” and replace it with a song “without racist undertones,” as reported by Hook’Em.
Soon after members of the university band also decided to take a stand, including drum major Ally Morales.
“Once I saw the statement from the football team and learned the history of ‘The Eyes of Texas,’ it was really easy to make the decision,” Morales told Chron. “I didn’t want to be a part of or initiate a school song that excludes any members of the university, whether it be current students, alumni, professors, family of students, or just fans.
The Dallas Morning News reported that she’s not alone. Junior saxophone player Judson Hayden, one of the 10 Black members of the nearly 400-person band, founded LHBlacks on June 19 — Juneteenth — to provide a safe space to the Black members of the band. The death of George Floyd ignited their thoughts, into actions.
Here’s the history of “The Eyes of Texas” as reported by the Dallas Morning News:
“The phrase ‘The eyes of Texas are upon you’ stems from former UT President William Prather, who studied law at Washington and Lee University, where Robert E. Lee served as the president. There, Prather watched Lee coin the phrase, ‘The eyes of the South are upon you,’ while he addressed students.
Prather decided to play with the phrase and took it to UT when he became the university president in 1899. Four years later, yearbook editor John Sinclair matched the phrase to the tune of “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.” This was then performed by white singers and dancers in blackface at minstrel shows, which were fundraisers that lasted at UT until the 1960s.”
After meeting with campus groups and student-athletes, UT President Jay Hartzell made several changes. Replacing “The Eyes of Texas” was not one of them.
Instead the school will will permanently honor Heman M. Sweatt as UT’s first Black student, and will erect a statue for Julius Whittier, the school’s first black football player, according to Hook’Em.
“While it’s a great attempt to unify students, I think he’s missing the point and quite frankly, inflating the problem. It’s rude and condescending for a white man to advocate for reclaiming the racist history of the song, when it’s not his to reclaim in the first place,” Morales said.
Somehow, large companies, and in this case schools, will hear our cry for justice and equality, but won’t do the things that we’ve asked for. While these gestures are nice, the school’s fight song will continue to be a painful reminder of the school’s racist past.
“The only people that can reclaim the song, if they choose to, are black students and alumni of the university,” Morales concluded.