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Texas Students, NAACP File Federal Civil Rights Complaint over 'Eyes of Texas' Song

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVSeptember 8, 2021

Tim Warner/Getty Images

The NAACP's Texas chapter and five anonymous University of Texas students have filed a federal civil rights complaint with the U.S. Education Department's Office of Civil Rights saying the school's continued use of "The Eyes of Texas" as its alma mater song creates a "hostile environment" for Black students.

Kate McGee of the Texas Tribune reported Tuesday the complaint, which was filed Friday, states the song carries a "racially offensive origin, context and meaning."

The filing argues Texas has violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act by failing to address racial harassment complaints related to the song and are failing to provide the 14th Amendment right of equal protection by having those who disagree with the song perform in a separate marching band, per McGee.

"As Black students, we kind of feel as if it's not like our voices are heard," Al-Nasser Lawal, who attends UT and leads the school's NAACP chapter, said. "The main objective of the administration and the campus is just to appease their wealthy donors so that they can continue to get that funding, and that they don't really have our best interests at heart."

The complaint also alleges students who've publicly opposed the song have attracted "threatening statements" from alumni, per Megan Menchaca of the Austin American-Statesman.

"University students, alumni, staff and faculty who oppose the use of this racially offensive song have been disregarded and subjected to racial hostility ... because the hatemongers have been empowered on UT campus and the dignity and respect for those who have different beliefs has been undermined," the complaint states.

The U.S. Education Department's Office of Civil Rights has yet to say whether it will launch an investigation into the allegations.

In March, the school released a 58-page report following a review of the origins of "The Eyes of Texas."

Key findings from the university's investigation include finding no direct link between the song and Confederate general Robert E. Lee along with "no evidence" the alma mater's lyrics were "intended to show nostalgia for slavery," per UT News.

The report said "The Eyes of Texas" was likely sung originally with use of blackface, calling that a "painful reality of the song's origin."

"Although it was not written in dialect and does not appear to have been composed as a minstrel song, we are pained and uncomfortable with this aspect of its history. We believe it is important to fully acknowledge and learn from the university's past," the review said.

The school opted to keep the song as its alma mater, however, and president Jay Hartzell released a statement to UT News about the report:

"I commend the committee for its outstanding work and willingness to explore a subject that has aroused such strong passions across our community. The members' work offers a model for how society can talk across divides to tackle difficult subjects. In particular, I am proud of the students and student-athletes who used their voices to raise concerns last summer and then stepped up to engage in this conversation and contribute to the research. They exemplify our mission of researching, teaching, and then changing the world."

Texas' band played "The Eyes of Texas" as part of the longstanding tradition after Saturday's 38-18 home win by the Longhorns' football team over Louisiana.

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