Texas athletes push for changes to campus, school song to be more racially inclusive

Texas Longhorns athletes are requesting the removal of "The Eyes of Texas" as the school song and changes to names of campus buildings in an effort to make the Austin campus more inclusive to the black community.

Without these changes, athletes said they would practice and participate in team activities but "will not be participating in the recruitment of incoming players or other alumni events."

"The recent events across the country regarding racial injustice have brought to light the systemic racism that has always been prevalent in our country as well as the racism that has historically plagued our campus," the athletes said in a statement, which was shared by several students on social media.

Among their requests are the renaming of four campus buildings that are named after Confederate or racist figures; more diverse statues by people of color; a permanent black athletic history in the school's athletics Hall of Honor; and the renaming of part of Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium after Julius Whittier, the Longhorns' first black player.

One of the players who shared the statement was wide receiver Brennan Eagles, who had tweeted on June 3 that he was "not going to play another snap knowing what's going on in our society due to color and the system being broken. Let's look at the bigger picture."

Eagles did not say anything further on the matter until Friday's statement.

"I am always willing to have meaningful conversations regarding any concerns our student-athletes have," Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte said in a statement. "We will do the same in this situation and look forward to having those discussions."

"The Eyes of Texas," which is played before and after every Longhorns football game, has come under scrutiny in recent years because it was first performed in a minstrel show, which featured blackface performances, in 1903.

According to the Texas State Historical Association, the University of Texas board of regents reaffirmed "The Eyes of Texas" as the university's official song to celebrate the 100th anniversary of its first performance. It was performed by the Longhorn Marching Band at the funerals of Royal, the coach for whom Texas' stadium is named, and former first lady Lady Bird Johnson. A copy of the original lyrics was taken to the moon in 1969 by university alumnus Alan L. Bean.

Leslie Blair, executive director of communications for the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, told The Daily Texan last year that the school understands the concern with the song.

"We don't want to forget the history of it," Blair said. "It's important to keep it alive. The university is aware of its past, of course, and we try to acknowledge it and hopefully offset it a little bit."

The players requested the renaming of Robert Lee Moore Hall, Painter Hall, Littlefield Hall and the James Hogg Auditorium, along with the removal of a statue of Hogg, which had been removed from the university's south mall in August 2017 before being reinstalled in December 2018.

"We are aware of three petitions created by students and look forward to working with them and the UT community to create the best possible experience on our campus for black students," said J.B. Bird, Texas' director of media relations and issues management.

Moore, a mathematics teacher at Texas from 1920 to 1969, was a segregationist who refused to allow black students to take his classes for many years.

Theophilus Painter served as UT president from 1944 to 1952 and was noted for denying entrance to the Texas law school for Heman M. Sweatt, a black student who met every requirement for admission except race. The decision led to a lawsuit, Sweatt v. Painter, which ultimately forced the school's admission of black students in 1950.

Former Texas president George W. Littlefield previously served as a Confederate Army officer and proposed the fountain bearing his name to honor the Confederate war dead -- though it was later changed to a World War I memorial -- while also commissioning three more Confederate statues, including of Robert E. Lee. He also built a women's dormitory, Littlefield Hall, to be named after his wife, Alice. The three Confederate statues were removed in 2017, along with another Littlefield-era statue of James Hogg, whose legacy as governor includes signing the state's first Jim Crow laws, such as one forcing the segregation of railroad cars.

Hogg's statue was later reinstated in Hogg Hall by university president Greg Fenves, who acknowledged the controversy but noted that Hogg passed the state's anti-lynching law and said, "Governor Hogg and his descendants made many contributions to UT Austin and to the state."