|The Marching Tornadoes, which have only been in existence since 2012, will march into history on Jan. 20, when the participate in the inaugural parade for President-elect Donald Trump. They will be the only HBCU that agreed to march.|
Historically black college says its band will perform in Trump's inaugural parade, despite criticism
ATLANTA (AP) — The marching band of a historically black college in Alabama will perform in President-elect Donald Trump's Jan. 20 inaugural parade, despite a barrage of criticism, the school's president announced Thursday.
Talladega College President Billy Hawkins confirmed what the Presidential Inaugural Committee had announced Dec. 30. It was the first official word from the school.
The Inaugural Committee's announcement last month had ignited passionate debate on the campus and around the nation.
In announcing that the Talladega College Marching Tornadoes will participate, Hawkins said the lessons students can learn from the experience cannot be taught in a classroom.
"We respect and appreciate how our students and alumni feel about our participation in this parade," Hawkins said in a statement Thursday.
"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," Hawkins added.
The announcement followed several days of intense debate on social media. Some people voiced strong opposition, while others said it would be a good opportunity to perform in the parade.
Talladega bills itself as Alabama's oldest private, historically black liberal arts college.
The college traces its beginnings to 1865, when two former slaves pledged to provide a school for the children of former slaves of the community. The school was founded two years later, in 1867, according to historical accounts on its website.
Talladega will join about a half-dozen other college bands, at least eight high school bands and several military groups that have been announced for the parade lineup so far.
Talladega College band will perform at inauguration, school's president says
The marching band of a small historically black college in Alabama will participate in the 58th Presidential Inaugural Parade, the school's president announced Thursday.
The decision follows several days of controversy after the Talladega Marching Tornadoes initially accepted an invitation to perform on January 20, with critics saying the move amounts to support for President-elect Donald Trump. Trump made comments during the presidential campaign that were widely viewed as disparaging to people of color and immigrants.
Talladega College President Billy C. Hawkins announced the final decision in a statement, noting that the "lessons students can learn from this experience cannot be taught in a classroom."
"We respect and appreciate how our students and alumni feel about our participation in this parade," said Hawkins. "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."
Supporters of the trip argued that the experience would benefit the band -- and be a source of pride for the relatively unknown school.
Critics also have accused Trump of fostering Islamophobia and xenophobia in a divisive, bitter campaign.
"I think with Donald Trump being the type person he is, the band shouldn't go," Ike Chukwuelue, 25, a Talladega student from Atlanta, said Wednesday.
"Marching in that parade would basically be siding with Trump and his ideals and the way he chooses to go about politics."
College founded by former slaves
Chukwuelue, speaking on the school's campus, also was worried that marching in the parade could affect the school's enrollment.
"What kid are you going to get to come here now after you just marched for Trump in a parade?" he said.
The controversy sparked rival petitions -- one first started by a graduate of the school asking The Great Tornado band to withdraw -- and another by a band member in support of performing.
Talladega, which was founded in 1867 by former slaves, has 800 students. It is Alabama's oldest private historically black liberal arts college, the school said.
"We have a reputation of fighting for freedom and equal rights and justice and he doesn't stand for any of that," said Shirley Ferrill.
Ferrill, a 1974 graduate from the school, started the petition calling for the band to withdraw.
She 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.
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 also 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.
Inaugural claims record number of applicants
The school learned that it had been tapped to perform in a December 21 letter addressed to the band from inaugural parade organizers. The letter congratulated the band on being chosen.
Who is performing at Trump's inauguration and who isn't?
"We had a record number of applicants, so our selection is a testament to your organization's talent and enthusiasm," the letter said.
Eight days later, the school's band director faxed the required information to organizers. The next day, Trump's inaugural committee listed the Talladega band on an initial lineup of performers.
Talladega resident Donald Morgan, a retired teacher who has four Talladega College graduates in his family, said the band would be playing for the office of the presidency -- not specifically for Trump -- and "for the country and for humanity."
Quoting first lady Michelle Obama, Morgan, 62, said: "When they go low, we should go high. We're going to respect him whether we like him or not because he is the President of the United States."
Morgan said Talladega College had long provided opportunities for African Americans to get higher education after schools such as the University of Alabama refused to admit black students. "Now we can go anywhere ... even to Washington to perform for the President of the United States," he said.
Talladega College band marches on toward Trump inauguration
Withstanding intense pressure from alumni and supporters, officials at Talladega College are moving forward with a plan to allow the school’s marching band to participate in the inaugural parade of President-elect Donald Trump.
School President Billy Hawkins announced the decision Thursday morning.
He called it a teachable moment for the 200-plus students in the band and for the college, noting that the “lessons students can learn from this experience cannot be taught in a classroom.”
“We respect and appreciate how our students and alumni feel about our participation in this parade,” Hawkins said. “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.”
Hawkins’ decision, which was delayed several times followed several controversial days at the Alabama HBCU. Alumni of the 150-year-old school launched a petition and protested the school’s inclusion, which they saw as an endorsement of Trump.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump was viewed by many African-Americans and minority groups as having racist tendencies.
The written statement released by the college included a letter of support to Hawkins from one of the schools most powerful alums, Hampton University President William R. Harvey.
“It will be a wonderful learning experience for the students in the band. It will be a teachable moment for them to understand the importance of supporting the leader of the free world, despite one’s political viewpoint,” Harvey said. “After all, the reason for being of any college or university should be to promote learning and not to enhance apolitical agenda.”