Longhorns Troubled by School Song's Past

Some refuse to sing a campus song that was first performed in blackface.

ByABC News
March 24, 2009, 1:55 PM

AUSTIN, Texas, March 25, 2009 -- The boisterous clatter of Darrell K Royal - Texas Memorial stadium on the campus of the University of Texas suddenly calms in response to the electricity in the air. No one knows where it starts, but the chorus of school spirit and pride begins to sound, eventually rising to a cacophony of noise.

As the first notes from the Longhorn band resonate throughout the crowd, nearly 100,000 voices join in. Hands rise into the air with the two outside fingers pointing toward the sky as the much-loved alma mater begins.

"The Eyes of Texas" epitomizes much of what it means to be a Longhorn at the University of Texas.

Sung to the tune of "I've Been Working on the Railroad," the iconic alma mater, however, seems to rub some Longhorns the wrong way.

T.J. Finley, who graduated from UT with a bachelor's degree in kinesiology in the spring, stopped singing UT's iconic alma mater completely after being told that the song was first performed by students wearing blackface makeup in a turn-of-the-century minstrel show.

"At first, I was just so shocked that something like this could still exist," said Finley, a graduate student at the Duke University School of Law.

The original manuscript of "The Eyes of Texas" is displayed in the lobby of the Texas Exes Alumni Center. The second stanza is traditionally sung at the opening and closing of all major UT sporting events:

The eyes of Texas are upon you,

All the live long 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
Till Gabriel blows his horn.

Micheondra Williams, a College of Liberal Arts sociology major, learned about the alma mater's history from a friend.

"I have to admit that I was a little bit shocked to read about the song's history," she said. "But there aren't any words that put me down or degrade me, or make me feel negatively about myself or anyone else."

"I feel if we were to research other things we do, or participate in, we would find many things can be traced back to a time much different than today."