Texas Exes end Torchlight Parade in light of Charlottesville rally

FILE - Torchlight Parade on the University of Austin campus (KXAN File Photo)
FILE - Torchlight Parade on the University of Austin campus (KXAN File Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The tradition of a torchlight rally ahead of the Red River Showdown is coming to an end this year.

The Texas Exes alumni organization, which hosts the event, decided after the deadly protests in Charlottesville they would stop the torchlight portion of the pre-game festivities in order to make everyone feel welcome.

The chaos in Charlottesville began in August when white nationalists carried torches through the University of Virginia campus.

Last year, the Torchlight Parade celebrated its 30th anniversary, featuring speeches from UT football players and coaches on the Main Mall. The tradition is part of the annual anticipation for the rivalry game between the Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma Sooners.

Texas Exes released a statement about the change:

As has been tradition since 1916, the Texas Exes will host a spirited rally before the OU game where students, alumni, and faculty can come together in fellowship and wish our players good luck. In light of the tragic events in Charlottesville, we will not be doing a torchlight parade. This night has always been a positive experience for the UT community and it is paramount to us that everyone feels welcome, safe, and part of the Longhorn family.”

Texas Exes emphasized that the Texas Fight Rally will continue as it has for a century, this year it will be on Wednesday, Oct. 11 at 8 p.m. on the steps of the UT Tower. The fight rally will feature speeches from Coach Tom Herman as well as senior football players. Attendees will also see performances from the Longhorn Band, Texas Cheer, Texas Pom and Roustabouts Dance Co. The Fight Rally is also hosted by the Texas Exes.

A spokesperson for the Texas Exes added that it remains to be seen whether the parade will start up again in the future. For the time being they are focusing their efforts on the rally being the main event leading to the Red River Showdown.

The rally and the Torchlight Parade have a century of history at UT Austin, explained Jim Nicar, who has made a hobby out of being a historian of UT and also happens to be one of the students who launched the parade in 1987.

Nicar explained that as far as he knows the earliest torchlight parade on campus happened in 1916.

Photo of the 1987 Torchlight Rally at UT Austin. Courtesy Jim Nicar.
Photo of the 1987 Torchlight Rally at UT Austin. Courtesy Jim Nicar.

“Over the years, especially in the 1940s, ’50s and early ’60s, torchlight parades were common for most of the football rallies on campus, and there were football rallies for almost every game,” Nicar explained.

He was part of a student group trying to increase spirit on campus and in 1987 his group saw a photo in a 1941 edition of LIFE magazine depicting a torchlight parade.

Their parade that year went down the Drag, over 21st Street, up the South Mall to the Main Mall and up the steps of the UT tower.

Nicar explained the students were equipped with a fire extinguisher and 16 “old school” torches.

“We went to the hardware store and bought two inch dowels and some burlap and some cloth and some wire and some funnels,” he said. “You had to wrap the burlap and the cloth over one end of the dowel, attach it with wire, use the metal funnel as a protective cup, put it on the dowel, then soak everything in kerosene for two hours.”

Nicar is proud to have been part of this tradition.

“I understand why they’re putting this on hiatus, it’s disappointing of course to see a 30 year tradition interrupted, but I’m hopeful it will be returned soon,” he said.

UT Student Government was part of some of the conversations where the possibility of ending the parade was discussed, explained UT Student Body Vice President Micky Wolf.

As a fan of Longhorn football, Wolf said it was somewhat disappointing to see the tradition go, but UT Student Government understands why Texas Exes decided to end the parade.

“In the larger national context we have white supremacists using torches on campus as a sign of white supremacy, and that’s not what this university stands for and I’m glad that our university will make sure that can’t be a sign [that’s] misconstrued,” Wolf said.

Wolf noted that when the deadly rallies in Charlottesville happened, UT student organizations across the political spectrum spoke out about the violence that happened there. He hopes students come out to the participate in the rally this year.

“I’m glad to see we’re taking the necessary precautions to make sure it’s a fully inclusive and welcoming event because that’s always what it’s been meant to be and it will continue to to be that this year,” Wolf said.

Student Arvind Srinivasan said that the decision to end the parade didn’t seem logical to him.

“I think the symbolism of [the] torches is used in completely different contexts in Charlottesville and here [at UT], and I doubt the origin of that symbolism from this case came from [Charlottesville],” he said.

Srinivasan’s friends added that no one had polled them or asked their opinion about the change in the parade.

“The torches are a pretty big decision an I think they should have consulted, made it more of a group decision before they just took it away,” said student Rohan Dang.

The Red River Showdown will happen this year on Oct. 14 at the Cotton Bowl stadium in Dallas. It is one of college footballs most anticipated rivalries. In 1912 Texas and Oklahoma played in Dallas for the first time, which moved the game to Dallas permanently.

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