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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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?