HBCUs: Talladega Band to Perform at Trump’s Inauguration Despite Controversy

The president of Talladega College, Alabama’s oldest private, historically Black liberal arts college, has accepted the invitation.

Marching Tornadoes, Talladega College's band / Change.org

Two former slaves, William Savery and Thomas Tarrant, founded Talladega College, one of the country’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), in 1867. It was the first college in Alabama to admit students of African American descent.

When news began to circulate on social media that 58th presidential inaugural parade organizers sent a December 21 letter to Talladega’s Marching Tornadoes, the school’s marching band, inviting them to perform, many disproved.

Talladega students and alumni against the school’s participation object to comments made by President-elect Donald Trump regarding Blacks, Latinos and immigrants during his presidential campaign, calling them disparaging.

In addition, Trump’s slowness to disavow the endorsement of David Duke, former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan; his reluctance to condemn the behavior of racist supporters; the birther movement against President Barack Obama; and the fact that Trump has not disclosed any policy positions on HBCUs have all created discontent.

A Talladega alumna, Shirley Pratt Ferrill, class of 1974, started a petition on Change.org asking Talladega not to send its marching band.

“In view of [Donald Trump’s] behavior and comments I strongly do not want Talladega College to give the appearance of supporting him,” Ferrill wrote.

The petition garnered 2,301 of the 2,500 signatures it was asking for.

After several weeks of controversy, Talladega’s president, Billy Hawkins, confirmed on Thursday the school band will perform on January 20.

DiversityInc obtained the college’s statement, which explains the administration “did not rush to accept” the invitation of parade organizers because they wanted to “hear and consider the thoughts and feelings of the Talladega College community.”

“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.”

The college said that a Talladega student, Dollan Young, created a petition in support of the band’s inaugural parade performance, and Hawkins received a letter of support from Talladega alum William R. Harvey, who is president of Hampton University, another HBCU.

“In my view, it is an honor to be invited to the inauguration of any President of the United States,” Harvey said. “The college and its band are celebrating the peaceful transition of power — a hallmark of America’s democracy and swearing in of a new President.”

Veronica Clark-Holland, a spokeswoman for Talladega, told DiversityInc on Thursday that members of the Marching Tornadoes have the “option to participate or not participate.”

“It is a choice for each student to make,” Clark-Holland said in an email.

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​Marching bands have the opportunity to apply to participate in the Inauguration Day parade. Howard University, an HBCU in Washington, D.C., whose band marched in Obama’s first inaugural parade, did not apply this year.

Band director John Newson said the band had too few members and was facing budgetary constraints, according to NBC 4 Washington.

A D.C. Public Schools spokeswoman told the news channel she was not aware of any band in the district that had applied to participate in Trump’s inaugural parade.

Newson said he suspects that many band directors’ and school administrators’ political beliefs played a role in whether or not they applied to participate in the parade.

“I think everybody knows why and no one wants to say and lose their job,” Newson said.

Did Talladega’s president Billy Hawkins make the right decision?

Read more news @ DiversityInc.com

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29 comments


  • It’s a big deal for a marching band anywhere to be asked to participate in an event of Nation-wide significance, so I’m not going to criticize them for participating. I’m glad they solicited community input before doing so; it was the right thing to do. I hope each band member has to option to choose whether or not to — personally — participate, without repercussions either way. A plus would be if they would play “We Shall Overcome” when passing by the President’s reviewing stand.

  • How is it diverse to only play or entertain for those who agree with us? How does boycotting educate and soften hearts?

  • Good for them!
    Celebrate the peaceful transition of power, and display their talent and hard work.

    I’m no Trump fan, but IMO inaugurations are far bigger than the president.

    • I would agree if the president elect had a plan for HBCUs. All he’s put up for the Black community is Sen. Sessions and the reprehensible Omerosa.

  • Hopefully, Trump will remember this once he looks at -and considers cancelling- President Obama’s STEM funding initiatives for HBCUs.

  • Know Nothings

    It’s a tough decision, but i agree that the band should attend and play “We Shall Overcome” as they pass the reviewing stand.
    Otherwise, pass by in silence for that stretch of the route.
    Perhaps the school could hold a Farewell to Our President Obama a day or two before the Inaugural and have it covered by the press.

  • Go! Establish a line of communication with that administration. That could be the gateway to addressing HBCU issues. Get out of your feelings and get strategic. Period.

  • Robert Parker

    Perhaps a spine transplant is needed by Billy Hawkins. Long live the jelly fish. So sad.

  • There will be no gain, respect, nor recognition for the college/band from the incoming administration. The lack of integrity displayed throughout his business career, the presidential campaign, cabinet appointments, support for Putin and character assassinations of anyone who disagrees with him, is more than enough for any entity to NOT participate!

    • Or at least use the invite to get a meeting to discuss the scurrilous nomination of Sen. Sessions. You’d get thrown out of the gold-plated palace, but at least you’d have some dignity, rather than providing a minstrel show for bigots.

  • This is a nobel act by the college. I am impressed and this is the spirit that Dr King wanted. Actions like this cannot help but engender respect by anyone who understands where we need to go to become a better nation. Thank you Talledaga for setting a positive example.

    • You don’t know what you’re talking about. Oppressed people do not engender respect by licking the boot of the oppressor. Dr. King certainly didn’t do that. Non violent protest and bearing honest witness – resulting in global news coverage – is what forced the federal government to the negotiating table to give us the Civil and Voting Rights Acts. If Dr. King were alive today, I have a hunch the mall would be filled with protestors on Inauguration Day to protest the disgraceful nomination of Sen. Sessions.

      It wasn’t “noble” for German/Jewish veterans of World War I to wear their Iron Crosses as they were rounded up to go to the concentration camps. It was pathetic.

  • I heard an interview with the college president today and they applied to march BEFORE the election so they were applying to march, not to march for one particular person. He also said that many of their students have never “had the opportunity to visit our nation’s capitol” and he saw this as a way for that to happen. They need $60,000 to travel and have established a “go-fund me” account that has raised less than $7,000. As an educational experience, this particular event, with the protests that are sure to arise, will be a once in a lifetime experience. I thought it was ridiculous for them to go until I heard the president speak. Now I understand their rationale and feel if the students want to do this, they should be afforded the opportunity.

    • It’s an experience, but I’m afraid the only educational benefit will be in years from now when the participants realize they were played by a bully to help him make his racist supporters feel better about their bigotry.

      It will hurt to be a modern day Stepen Fetchit.

  • Kudos to Talladega College and the advice offered by President Harvey. I will make a donation to their Go Fund Me Page. May we never fall to the depths as a country to start picking and choosing which inaugurations to attend, boycott or protest based who won the Presidency. If so, this will occur every 4 years because there will always be someone who disagrees with, or dislikes the eventual winner. A peaceful transition of power for one day, then get back to the politics of it all if you must.

    • You don’t think people haven’t picked and chosen which inauguration to go to? Please. See how many people show up a week from Friday and let’s see what they look like compared to 2008.

  • The alumni of the Tallegaha University should with hold their support or ask for tbe president’s resignation. Participation in this presidential inauguration is a disgrace .

  • I find all of these “Don’t go” comments pretty sad. It comes across as a bunch of sore loser comments….. flame away.

    So, 4 years from now if a liberal/Democrat wins, people who adamantly disagree shouldn’t go to the inauguration?

    I say nonsense. I COMPLETELY DISAGREE with some of President Obama’s positions to the point that I find them morally reprehensible. (e.g. Partial Birth Abortion)

    Does that mean that people who believe in sanctity of life in the same way I do should have boycotted President Obama’s Inaugurations? I say no. We are bigger than that. This is about celebrating the greatest from of Gov’t on the face of the earth, and the peaceful transition of power…. Not just one guy who is easy to dislike/despise.

  • What would you say to Republicans who boycott the inauguration would Clinton have won?

    • Perhaps the question should be posed to future cabinet member Rick Perry who boycotted President Obama’s inauguration.

      You don’t think he was the only Republican who did so, do you?

  • He , Donald trump is our president !, honor him as such , we have sore losers leaving the white house , sore losers in cogress Well MY MY !!

  • Paul, to answer your question: I would say the exact same thing to any Republican that would have boycotted the inauguration had Mrs. Clinton won.

    I didn’t vote for her, but had she won, she would be my president.

    Further, she would assume the responsibility of the office in a peaceful transition of power, and that is worth celebrating.

    Republicans who boycotted previous inauguration were just plain WRONG. So are these boycotters.

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