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'The Eyes of Texas' Brings Civil Rights Complaint

NAACP joins students in federal filing
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 8, 2021 6:40 PM CDT
'The Eyes of Texas' Brings Civil Rights Complaint
The Texas band takes the field to perform before a game Saturday in Austin.   (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

(Newser) – The Texas chapter of the NAACP and a group of students have filed a federal civil rights complaint against the University of Texas for its continued use of school song "The Eyes of Texas," which has racist elements in its past. The complaint filed Sept. 3 with the US Department of Education alleges that Black students, athletes, band members, faculty, and alumni are being subjected to violations of the Civil Rights Act and a hostile campus environment over the "offensive," "disrespectful," and "aggressive" use of the song. The NAACP and the students want the federal government to withhold funding from the university, the AP reports.

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Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas NAACP and a Texas law school graduate, sharply criticized Texas on Wednesday for requiring the Longhorn Band to play the song at athletic events and expecting athletes to stand and sing it after games. "It's like slave owners making slaves buck dance for their entertainment," Bledsoe said. The song was played before and after Saturday's season-opening football win over Louisiana-Lafayette and was given a full-throated sing-along by a crowd of about 80,000. Many Texas players gathered near the band during the song, as has been tradition for decades. First-year football coach Steve Sarkisian has said the team will sing the song. A university spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The complaint alleges that Black students feel "humiliated" whenever the song is played or sung. "The Eyes of Texas" was written in 1903 and has been performed in minstrel shows with musicians often in blackface. It has been sung after games and graduation ceremonies, and is a popular sing-along at weddings and funerals. Last year, a group of athletes and students called for dropping the song. President Jay Hartzell, with the backing of the university's Board of Regents, said it will stay, and a school research panel determined there was "no racist intent" behind it. In April, the university announced the school would create a separate band in 2022 for students who don't want to play "The Eyes of Texas." The complaint argues that forcing students who object to the song into a different band is an attempt at a "separate but equal" alternative. (The school hired a consultant to work on the song's image.)

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