Confederate General Robert E. Lee was fond of telling his troops before they went into battle, ‘”The eyes of the South are upon you.” In 1903, a member of the University of Texas band wrote some lyrics and put them to the tune of “I’ve been working on the railroad.” “The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You” debuted at a school minstrel show — with white students appearing in blackface — and has been adopted as the UT alma mater.
It’s more than that, of course, It’s a Texas institution and now, cancel culture hysterics have come for it.
But it’s very hard to cancel an institution. Knock down a few statues, erase the history books — these are easy. But the history, tradition, and sheer emotion tied up into an institution — even the barbarians will have trouble canceling that.
The Texas Tribune obtained emails from donors to University President Jay Hartzell that show the depth of feeling against the idea of canceling the institution that is “The Eyes of Texas.”
“My wife and I have given an endowment in excess of $1 million to athletics. This could very easily be rescinded if things don’t drastically change around here,” wrote one donor in October. His name was redacted by UT-Austin. “Has everyone become oblivious of who supports athletics??”
Hartzell had already publicly stated the university would keep the song, but hundreds of emails obtained through public records requests show that decision didn’t quell the furor among some of the most ardent supporters of “The Eyes.”
From June to late October, over 70% of the nearly 300 people who emailed Hartzell’s office about “The Eyes” demanded the school keep playing it. Around 75 people in emails explicitly threatened to stop supporting the school financially, calling on the university to take a heavier hand with students and athletes they believed were disrespecting university tradition by protesting it.
The lyrics of the song are inoffensive and rather pedestrian.
The Eyes of Texas are upon you,
All the livelong day.
The Eyes of Texas are upon you,
You cannot get away.
Do not think you can escape them
At night or early in the morn —
The Eyes of Texas are upon you
‘Til Gabriel blows his horn.
The song has been sung at weddings. It was sung at former first lady Ladybird Johnson’s funeral. It has embedded itself in the fabric of people’s lives.
Now, on the 185th anniversary of Texas independence, controversy threatens it. But the song won’t be canceled without a fight.
“[Alumni] are pulling planned gifts, canceling donations, walking away from causes and programs that have been their passion for years, even decades and turning away in disgust. Last night one texted me at 1:00 am, trying to find a way to revoke a 7-figure donation,” President of the Longhorn Alumni Band Charitable Fund Board of Trustees Kent Kostka wrote to a group of administrators, including Hartzell. “This is not hyperbole or exaggeration. Real damage is being done every day by the ongoing silence.”
Indeed, most alumni want Hartzell to be more forceful in defending the tradition. Even though the lyrics themselves are inoffensive, the “racist undertones” and the history of the song are what matter to the culture destroyers.
The Texas Cowboys school spirit association was a key social group on the UT campus for decades. In the past, Gordan said members would put on blackface and perform a sort of a minstrel show each year for their schoolmates.
Gordan said the “The Eyes of Texas” is a satirical rendition of Confederate commander Robert E. Lee’s saying “the eyes of the south are upon you,” which was made popular on the UT campus by former university president William Lambdin Prather.
Do these children really believe they’re fighting racism by canceling a song? Tearing down a monument? Scrubbing a history text? Racism is a disease of the heart and soul and isn’t cured by inflaming passions against the fight against it by attacking symbols that have nothing to do with racism unless the meaning or context in which they appear is horribly twisted by those not seeking to heal but to hurt.
At bottom, cancel culture is cruelty writ large. Symbols that have deep personal meaning to perhaps millions of people are attacked with full knowledge that they are injuring their feelings. That’s cruel and unjust.
Right now, fear of being seen as “racist” is what’s driving this effort forward. Perhaps fear of suffering financially is the antidote. Neither solution is optimal and none will be found as long as the goal isn’t ending racism, as much as it is revenge against those who perpetrated historic injustices.