Calls to End ‘Eyes of Texas’ Draw Focus to Professor’s Lessons on UT’s Racial HistoryHistorians in the News
tags: racism, Jim Crow, Texas, minstrelsy, Blackface
The History of the ‘Eyes of Texas’
“I think one of the things that people are not aware of or don’t think about is that at the time that the University of Texas was created, this was a Jim Crow institution and things like minstrelsy were common in Texas society and culture — at least in white Texas society culture” Gordon explained.
He refers to the University of Texas in its early years as a “neo-confederate university” noting that “every single [original UT] regent was an ex-Confederate Officer except for one, he was a Confederate diplomat, and so it’s steeped in that.”
Gordon explained that former UT Austin president Wiliam Prather studied in the 1870s under Confederate General Robert E. Lee who was president of the college now called Washington & Lee University. Lee was reported to end his speeches and conversations with faculty members with “the eyes of the South are upon you,” so Prather adapted the phrase when he became president at UT.
The origins of this phrase are a piece of history the Texas Exes alumni association notes as well on their website, adding that UT students Lewis Johnson and John Land Sinclair put that phrase into a song to the tune of “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” as a joke on Prather.
The first performance of this show happened in 1903 at a minstrel show at the Hancock Opera House. Gordon explained that this satirical song riffing off of Prather’s message was performed in blackface, “at least in part because blackface performance was the way you did satirical and comical songs” at that time.
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