The University of Texas later this week is hoping to put some finality to the lingering controversy surrounding the school song, “The Eyes of Texas.”
A committee that was commissioned by the school is expected to release its report on the song. At issue is the history of the song, whose words were coined by Confederate General Robert E. Lee, and whose origins came from Black-faced minstrel shows and whose tune was taken from the racist “Levee Song.”
“Equipped with a common set of facts, we will then continue the conversation about our song,” Texas President Jay Hartzell said last week. “Having spoken to students and faculty on the committee, I truly believe we can be a model for how communities address complex problems and move forward together.”
That it’s not an independent committee, but rather one filled with Texas employees, students and alumni already suggests that its goal is to return with a stated purpose to justify keeping the song as the school’s alma mater.
Hartzell has already said the song was staying.
Let’s be real. It would appear that the apparent finding does not leave any path forward toward addressing the main problem, which is how the school can we more welcoming to Black students if their athletes are forced to continue sing the school song.
Anyone who thinks the controversy will end with the release of the report is in denial, and it makes one question their status as a person entrusted with educating students at the state’s flagship university.
The model was dead on arrival when the university knuckled to a bunch of disgruntled and entitled alumni by forcing Texas football to stand for the controversial song last season.
Not only did roughly 75 boosters threaten to stop funding the school after many Black athletes at Texas demand that the song be changed and then refused to sing it, as detailed in a Texas Tribune report on Monday, but they also went after the athletes with abhorrent and hateful rhetoric, including telling “the Blacks” to go to another school, death threats and the denial of jobs after graduation.
Hartzell denounced the boosters as extremists. He said their hateful views didn’t represent the values of a Longhorn community that boasts 540,000 alumni.
If that was the case then why did the school force the players to stay on the field for “The Eyes of Texas” after not doing so for the first three games of the season?
Junior linebacker DeMarvion Overshown told the Texas Tribune the players were instructed by school officials during an October meeting to remain on the field for the song to appease fans and donors who had threatened to pull funds.
“They said y’all don’t have to sing it. But y’all have to stay on the field. Y’all have to go over there and at least show fans appreciation for coming out and watching you guys play,” Overshown said.
A source said that the school instructed the coaches on the staff to stay on the field with their hands up for the school song as well.
It was all a wake-up call to Overshown, who said he received death threats last summer after he briefly left football following a demand by Longhorn student-athletes in calling on the university to make real changes to create a more racially educated and accepting atmosphere on campus, including a change to the school song.
“It was really eye opening,” Overshown said. “These are some high-power people that come to see you play and they can keep you from getting a job in the state of Texas. It was shocking that they said that. To this day I still think back to the moment. They really used that as a threat to get us to try to do what they wanted us to do.”
And this is where Texas must draw the line.
They are hoping the commission report can help the students and the alumni reach some common ground on the song.
It is already too late for that, given the school’s poor image regarding its recruitment and retention of Black students.
The alumni emails have traveled like wildfire through the Black community. Black alumni are upset and parents of prospective students are being questioned by friends and family after reading ideology that wreaks of a plantation mentality and the Jim Crow south that resulted in Texas not admitting Blacks until they were forced to by the landmark Supreme Court decision, Sweatt v. Painter, in 1950.
Texas so badly wanted to keep Heman Sweatt out of the UT Law school and keep the school segregated that it created a separate law school for Blacks at Texas Southern University in Houston.
The Supreme Court ultimately ruled that “separate was not equal,” and forced Texas to admit Sweatt.
The first undergraduate students were admitted in 1956. Julius Whittier became the first Black letterman on the Texas football team in 1970, one year after Texas became the last all-white team to win a national championship in 1969.
That was then.
“It’s time for you to put the foot down and make it perfectly clear that the heritage of Texas will not be lost,” a donor, who graduated in 1986, wrote to Hartzell last fall among the emails obtained by The Texas Tribune. “It is sad that it is offending the blacks. As I said before the blacks are free and it’s time for them to move on to another state where everything is in their favor.”
Added Larry Wilkinson, a donor who graduated in 1970:
“Less than 6% of our current student body is black. The tail cannot be allowed to wag the dog….. and the dog must instead stand up for what is right. Nothing forces those students to attend UT Austin. Encourage them to select an alternate school ….NOW!”
The idea that the school forced the athletes to stand last fall and plans to do so in the future, said new football coach Steve Sarkisian, is akin to modern-day buck breaking.
And this was after the school promised to be more inclusive and welcoming to end a summer boycott by Black players on the football team.
In a day and age when athletes across the country are kneeling in protest during the national anthem, it’s incomprehensible to make Texas athletes stand for the school song under the auspices of appeasing and thanking the alumni for their support and donations.
Many of the alumni have already made their feelings known about what they truly think of them. The athletes are there to entertain them. They are not allowed to have independent thought or be offended by the past vestiges of racism. If they don’t like it, they can leave.
Maybe they will. Maybe they won’t.
Athletes have found they have the power to exert change one way or another.
This problem won’t go away when the committee report comes out this week.
It will take years to sort out public relations damage in the Black community.
But there is no way forward if the school continues with the plantation mentality and forces the players to stand and sing “The Eyes of Texas.”