The Lasting Impact of Southern Secession through White Supremacist Ideals in America

Huey Freeman
6 min readJun 27, 2021

“The Eyes of Texas” is a racist song, but The University of Texas claims it is not. To fully understand the song, we must first understand its roots — which begin with the confederacy. The story of “The Eyes” starts on December 20th, 1860 when the confederate south seceded from the United States in order to preserve their ability to own other humans. This is proven in 1865, when secessionist Robert E. Lee wrote “the relation of master and slave…is the best that can exist between the white and black races.” After the civil war ended, President Lincoln planned to redistribute the estates of secessionist elites by providing families of freed slaves with forty acres of land and a mule. When Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, his secessionist sympathizer Vice President Andrew Johnson succeeded him and nixed the plan. With this, the modern era’s white supremacy finds its roots. After Johnson took office, free Black Americans were systematically arrested without cause, murdered, and forced to return to their former masters’ plantations where they worked as indentured laborers under a debt-perpetuating economic system. Minstrel shows also became an incredibly popular form of entertainment in America after the civil war. Performers would wear blackface makeup and mock the language, actions, and intelligence of Black people. Through this paper, we will analyze the impacts of secessionist ideology within the context of the origins of “The Eyes of Texas”, and its implications on society today.

After losing the civil war to the United States, confederates and their kin shifted focus to cultural influence. This perpetuation of secessionist ideals as a moral high ground is known as “the lost cause”. This is discussed by Karen Cox in Dixie’s Daughters, where she describes the goal of the United Daughters of the confederacy as “to work like a well-regulated army.” (Cox 28) According to the Washington Post, “members of the UDC’s historical committee published lists of textbooks they deemed objectionable…and lobbied school boards and principals…this textbook crusade was wildly successful.” Similarly, early donors to UT commissioned statues of Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee, among others, to be placed on campus. Through this commemoration, lost cause ideals were woven into UT’s cultural fabric and were to provide a moral framework for young people. In the early 1900s, UT’s President was William Prather. He had studied law under Robert E. Lee at Washington College, where he became infatuated with the secessionist leader. Prather later served as pallbearer, carrying the casket at Lee’s funeral. At UT, Prather ended each of his addresses to students with the phrase “The Eyes of Texas are Upon You”. According to Dr. Alberto Martinez, Prather copied a phrase about Lee: “The eyes of General Lee are upon you,” which was a paraphrase by John Gregg, another confederate, of words stated by Lee himself while rallying the Texan confederate brigade. This phrase is the basis of UT’s school song, and underscores UT’s historical commitment to furthering lost cause ideology. In 1903, in preparation for the school’s first minstrel show, student John Lang Sinclair adapted the tune and lyrics of the racist “Levee Song” to write “The Eyes”. At the minstrel show, performers of the song wore blackface and acted as if they were a chained together, working on a railroad. Per Dr. Martinez’s research, protests were undertaken in opposition to the minstrel shows by the Students for a Democratic Society. UT administrators proceeded to remove them from the list of approved student organizations because they “protested too much.” Despite student protests, UT leadership did nothing about these racist performances. Minstrel shows continued, officially endorsed, on campus until at least 1965. This proves that “The Eyes of Texas” perpetuates white supremacy.

These protests by the longhorn community responding to minstrel shows are representative of the countless student, faculty, and alumni protests we’ve seen in opposition to the school song. UT’s marching band was polled in 2020 by their leadership, and half of their members refused to play the song. Leadership decided that students who felt uncomfortable must join a new separate but equal band. This poll of the band speaks to the ways in which “The Eyes” creates divisions in today’s student community. [redacted], [redacted] of the UT Senate of College Councils, stated that she “…feels like the majority of students think the song is suspicious, but most students are not exposed to the students that the song [negatively] affects.” UT recently released an internally sanctioned, researched, and developed report concluding that the song is “not overtly racist.” Ms. [redacted] said the report “felt like a cover-up” to the student community. This report is inherently self-contradicting because UT’s President made the unilateral decision to maintain “The Eyes” as the school song several months in advance of the committee’s formation. [redacted], [redacted] of the UT Pom Squad, shared that she “wants to uphold UT traditions…but history doesn’t have to be maintained just for the sake of maintaining history.” Ms. [redacted] told me she initially felt encouraged by UT committing to educate the community on the history of the song but added that she hasn’t seen any efforts to actually follow through on these promises besides the report. There are also members of the student community who cherish the tradition associated with “The Eyes”. [redacted], who served as [redacted], said that to him “it’s a song about school pride and unity.” Mr. [redacted] added that he’ll always have his horns up for the song “but will never shun someone for…not liking the song, because it’s their choice.”

Over time, people speaking out about injustice have been the single most effective propellant for change in human civilization. UT Alum Dr. Gary Bledsoe, President of Texas’ NAACP chapter, stated the fact that “The Eyes” has been performed in minstrel shows by blackface wearing white students “is as racist as it gets.” Moving forward, it is the imperative of all people to educate themselves and to help undo the white supremacist power structures entrenched in our society. Today, at UT, this process starts with “The Eyes of Texas.”

An account of John Gregg’s paraphrasing of Robert E. Lee’s battle cry.
Page #146 of the 1965 UT Cactus Yearbook.
The statue of Robert E. Lee that commemorated and propagated secessionist ideals on UT’s campus from 1933–2017.

Names of interviewees have been redacted as I told them that their names would not be shared publicly. Thank you for your understanding.

Works Cited

“Austin Daily Texan Newspaper Archives, Nov 21, 1965, p. 1.”, Austin Daily Texan, 21 Nov. 1965,–1965-p-1/.

Chan, Amy. “Robert E. Lee and Slavery.” HistoryNet, HistoryNet, 16 Mar. 2018,

Eberts, Wescott. “The Case against Singing ‘The Eyes of Texas.’” Burnt Orange Nation, Burnt Orange Nation, 13 June 2020,

Ethan Kytle, Blain Roberts. “Perspective | The Lost Cause Roots of Sinclair’s Propaganda.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 1 Apr. 2019,

“Facts & Figures.” Facts & Figures | The University of Texas at Austin,

“Full Report.” Eyes of Texas, 10 Mar. 2021,

Horowitz, Juliana Menasce, et al. “Views on Race in America 2019.” Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends Project, Pew Research Center, 16 Mar. 2021,

Martinez, Alberto A. “100 Problems in ‘The Eyes of Texas’.” Medium, Medium, 1 May 2021,

Martinez, Alberto A. “True Origins of ‘The Eyes of Texas’.” Medium, Medium, 8 May 2021,

“Statue of Robert E. Lee (Austin, Texas).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 6 Mar. 2021,,_Texas).