It took much debate and endless soul-searching, but in the end, the historically black Talladega College’s marching band will perform at President Donald Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20.
“We respect and appreciate how our students and alumni feel about our participation in this parade,” Talladega President Billy Hawkins said in a news release announcing the decision to participate. “As many of those who chose to participate in the parade have said, we feel the inauguration of a new president is not a political event but a civil ceremony celebrating the transfer of power.”
To a number of Talladega alumni, the announcement late last month that the band would march in the parade was an insult to the very principles of the college, which was established two years after the end of the Civil War. The school is affiliated with the United Church of Christ, a liberal Protestant denomination that was deeply involved in the civil rights movement, and for decades it served as an incubator for theories and practices of social justice.
Nikky Finney, a poet and Talladega graduate who is now a professor at the University of South Carolina, said in a statement published by The New York Times that the band should not help celebrate Trump, who, she said, has maligned women and Mexican immigrants and has proposed barring all Muslims from entering the country.
In an interview this week, Finney, channeling a James Brown lyric, said the college had “sold out the history of Talladega College for chicken change” and “maybe a tin star on a hatemonger’s parade route.”
The newspaper reported that an online petition had be launched calling for the band to withdraw from the inaugural parade. The petition had attracted more than 1,900 signers, some of them supporters of the college who have threatened to withhold future contributions.
Similar issues have been raised about other entertainers scheduled to perform, among them the Radio City Rockettes and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. But because of Talladega’s history, the issues have been especially intense, with calls for the college to reverse its decision to take part in the festivities.
Talladega was founded in 1867 by former slaves and has 800 students. It is Alabama’s oldest private historically black liberal arts college, CNN reported.
Shirley Ferrill, a 1974 alumna who started the petition calling for the band to withdraw, said she was most offended by Trump’s November 2015 rally in Birmingham, in which a Black Lives Matter protester was beaten, punched and kicked by white men in the crowd.
“We have a reputation of fighting for freedom and equal rights and justice and he doesn’t stand for any of that,” she said.
Hawkins said the school’s administration did not rush to accept the invitation because it wanted to “hear and consider the thoughts and feelings of the Talladega College community.”
He noted that while the event is considered a “once-in-a-lifetime experience for the students,” the school must now raise more than $60,000 to cover the expense of the trip to Washington, CNN said.
That has raised even more ire from those who said the college shouldn’t participate.
“There’s a great deal of fear in this country that the Voting Rights Act is going to be abolished, that the Affordable Care Act is going to be abolished, that Planned Parenthood is going to be cut off from funding, that Medicaid is going be cut off from funding,” said J. Mason Davis, a Birmingham lawyer who graduated from the college in 1956. “Don’t you understand why we have a fear of the man?”
Yet, Donavon Jackson, 24, a former trumpet player in the band who graduated last year, told The Times that performing as part of the inauguration would be particularly special for a college of about 1,000 students whose band program is only about five years old.
The school does not have a football team, which makes parade invitations all the more important.
“I’m honored to go to a school that can say they marched in an inauguration parade,” said Jackson, who received a chemistry degree and now lives in Houston. “Not necessarily for the person — and that’s not necessarily saying he’s a bad person.”