The University of Texas at Austin said it would rename a building named for a racist professor, erect a statue of the school’s first Black football player and commission a monument to its first Black undergraduates. What’s not changing? “The Eyes of Texas,” a campus anthem with minstrel roots that student-athletes want abolished.
Athletes at the university had called on campus officials to find a song “without racist undertones” in place of the anthem, which has lyrics that were in part inspired by the words of Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general.
“‘The Eyes of Texas,’ in its current form, will continue to be our alma mater,” Jay Hartzell, interim president of the university, said in a statement on Monday.
“It is my belief that we can effectively reclaim and redefine what this song stands for by first owning and acknowledging its history in a way that is open and transparent,” he continued. “Together, we have the power to define what the Eyes of Texas expect of us, what they demand of us, and what standard they hold us to now.”
Replacing the song was among a long list of requests made by the athletes, who said that if their demands were not met, they would no longer help the university recruit new players or participate in donor events.
On Monday, after the announcement was made, many athletes said they were grateful for the actions the university had decided to take.
Caden Sterns, a defensive back on the Longhorns football team, thanked the administration on Twitter.
“Great day to be a Longhorn,” he wrote, adding, “Looking forward to make more positive change on campus.”
“The Eyes of Texas” can be traced back to Lee and was performed at minstrel shows in the early 20th century.
Lee’s connection to the song goes back to William Prather, the University of Texas’ president from 1899 to 1905. In the 1860s, Prather was a student at Washington College, in Lexington, Va., while Lee was its president.
Lee would always end remarks to Washington faculty members and students by saying “the eyes of the South are upon you,” according to historians.
When Prather became president of the University of Texas, he invoked the phrase and changed it to “the eyes of Texas are upon you.”
Students wrote satirical lyrics with the phrase and set them to the tune of “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.”
A university quartet first performed the song around 1903, at a minstrel show at the Hancock Opera House in Austin, where the singers are believed to have worn blackface.
Edmund T. Gordon, a professor in the University of Texas’ African and African diaspora studies department, who has studied and documented the campus’s racial history, said he supported the decision to keep the song in the context of the university’s mission “to foment teaching, learning and research in service of positive change in our society.” He added that keeping the song and explaining its origins would serve as a “constant reminder to our community that there were problematic aspects of our past that can and do continue to impact the present.”
Last month, the athletes called on the athletics department and the university to take measures including creating a permanent Black athletic history exhibition in its Hall of Fame; donating a portion of the athletics department’s annual earnings to Black organizations, including Black Lives Matter; and renaming campus buildings, including one honoring Robert Lee Moore, a mathematics professor who refused to let Black students in his class after the university desegregated.
The university agreed to rename that building the Physics, Math and Astronomy Building.
The university added that it would “provide historical explanations within the building about why past university leaders chose to name the space for Professor Moore.”
University officials said they would erect a statute for Julius Whittier, who joined the Longhorns in 1970 and became the team’s first Black football player, at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.
Joe Jamail Field, which was named after a white Texas billionaire, will be renamed to honor two Black football players, Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams, former Longhorns and Heisman Trophy winners. That change was suggested by Mr. Jamail’s family, according to the university.
The university also said it would use revenue from the athletics department to invest in programs that recruit Black students and students from underrepresented groups from Dallas, Houston and San Antonio.
The university vowed to adopt a plan to recruit and retain faculty members “who bring more diversity to our research and teaching missions” and to expand a committee that oversees campus police to include more community members and a “broader range of students.”