UT Professor Releases Independent Report Countering the Eyes of Texas History Committee
By Dominique LaVigne
Reporting Texas TV
AUSTIN, Texas — The Eyes of Texas History Committee released its report about the university alma mater on March 9, but some found it less than satisfactory.
Professor Alberto Martinez spent 15 days researching the song’s history to write an independent report on The Eyes of Texas after the official committee concluded the song was not written with racist intent.
“I had no previous historical interest in the issue, but like many other people, I was looking forward to the report,” Martinez said. “I was well aware of the controversy.”
He was surprised when the report concluded that it was very unlikely the phrase “the eyes of Texas are upon you” was inspired by General Robert E. Lee.
“To me, that’s unusual because when I want to study the history of something, I want to find out what happened. Any statement that has to do with probabilities such as very likely or probably did not happen — I can’t settle for that,” he said.
Martinez contested the report’s conclusion that the song was performed towards the decline of minstrelsy. Martinez found John Lang Sinclair wrote the song for the day minstrelsy began at the University of Texas at Austin.
“If the Klu Klux Klan gets together tomorrow and sings happy birthday, I don’t think the song should be banned,” Martinez said.
“I think it’s an absurdity to think that way, but for me to make up my mind about the Eyes of Texas, I needed to know whether the song was written for this event.”
Martinez said Lewis Johnson pressured Sinclair to write the Eyes of Texas to debut at a minstrel show in 1903. Sinclair copied the melody and some lyrics of “The Levee Song,” which was often performed in blackface at minstrel shows.
Dr. Richard Reddick, a professor of education who served as the history committee’s chair, said many members didn’t know all the facts of the song when their work began. This was an opportunity to discover those facts.
“You may be passionately supportive of the Eyes of Texas, and you might feel differently five years from now, just because life happens to you, things occur, and you may not feel the same way about it,” Reddick said.
On March 1, the Texas Tribune published an article exposing racist emails from donors who threatened to pull donations if the university cut the song.
“I’d rationalize that people who are racist don’t need a song to provoke that reaction, right? So I don’t think the removal of a song would necessarily abate racist behavior. That’s a deeper issue,” Reddick said.
UT junior Judson Hayden plays in the Longhorn Band and serves as the President of LHBlacks, an organization for Black members of the Longhorn Band. He said it was irresponsible for the university to keep playing the song before releasing the report.
“The university didn’t honestly care if the song was racist or not because if they had, they would have waited to put judgment on whether the song was going to stay or not,” Hayden said.
He thinks the committee failed to accurately represent the student body.
“All of these student leaders who represent so much of what it’s like to be black at UT weren’t represented in the community or in the Eyes of Texas Committee. That’s a problem because what is this university, really, if not its students,” Hayden said.
In an interview with reporters, President Jay Hartzell said they decided to keep the song before the committee’s work to protect the committee members.
“If the committee had been formed to cast a decision or cast a vote over the future of the song, I think it would have been hard for it to do the same kind of work,” Hartzell said. “Instead, we tasked the committee with getting the facts out.”
Martinez and Hayden attended a press conference Monday along with Black elected officials, Texas NAACP, civil rights leaders, and UT alumni and students to denounce the Eyes of Texas and demand a new official song.
“What you’re going to do now is say, ‘okay everyone, now we’re going to sing the school song. People who want to leave, especially black people are welcomed to leave, especially black athletes, but we’re going to sing the song even if you hate it,'” Martinez said.
“It’s absurd, embarrassing, unsustainable, and for that reason, I think the song should be changed, and I think it will be changed.”