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Racial justice protests last summer sparked more than a debate around policing and public safety. Inspired to act, student-athletes at the University of Texas came together and demanded several changes to create a more inclusive school community, including changing the official school song to something that wasn’t rooted in white supremacy.
Students also wanted the school to stop the requirement that students be required to sing “The Eyes of Texas” after games.
That prompted a group of University of Texas alumni and donors to threaten to withdraw financial support if the school retired the song.
A new report by the Texas Tribune revealed more than 200 emails from alumni and donors demanded the school continue to play the song. Some of the anger arose after football players left the field during the song following a game against rival Oklahoma in October, leaving the quarterback as the lone player on the field.
Outraged at the imagery during the revered post-game tradition, several alumni demanded to know why the players had not stayed on the field to sing the song.
Some demands reported by the Tribune showed little to no concern for the racist origins of the school song, or the desire of student-athletes and other members of the university’s extended community to create a more inclusive environment.
The song was inspired by a quote from the pro-slavery Confederate General Robert E. Lee and is set to the popular tune, “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.” The song was also reportedly sung as a part of minstrel shows.
The school reportedly flagged the email of a large donor who criticized a committee being led by a Black professor to study the song and its origins. Professor Richard Reddick’s committee will make recommendations on how the university can address its past and move forward, even if the song remains in place.
Another email suggested Black people move to another state. Donor Larry Wilkinson said Black students were only 6% of the student body. “The tail cannot be allowed to wag the dog….. and the dog must instead stand up for what is right,” wrote Wilkinson. “Encourage them to select an alternate school ….NOW!”
Bob Rowling, a billionaire businessman whose holdings include the Omni hotel chain, wrote that the administration needed to heed the influential donors on the list who were objecting to the move.
“We’re in the middle of a capital campaign right now…We’re raising billions of dollars right now,” Rowling told the Texas Tribune. “If you want to dry that up immediately, cancel ‘The Eyes of Texas.’”
Another donor, whose name was redacted, claimed to have donated more than $1 million to the school’s athletics department and suggested the school consider who funds sports.
“This could easily be rescinded if things don’t drastically change around here,” read the email.
Changing the song was just one of several demands from students last summer. Some alumni have even suggested rewriting and renaming the song to reckon with its origins.
Texas’ new football coach defiantly said he planned to require all of his players to sing “The Eyes of Texas.”
This news out of Texas came just days after Republican members of the Tennessee state senate demanded athletes playing at the state’s public colleges and universities not be allowed to kneel during the national anthem.
Anoa Changa is a movement journalist and retired attorney based in Atlanta, Georgia. Follow Anoa on Instagram and Twitter @thewaywithanoa.
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