After several days of heated debate, the marching band of a historically black college in Alabama has committed to take part in Donald Trump’s inaugural parade.
Talladega College, located in the town of the same name, will send its band to the January 20 event, college president Billy C. Hawkins announced today, CNN reports.
“We respect and appreciate how our students and alumni feel about our participation in this parade,” said a statement issued by 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.”
The band’s participation has been controversial because of Trump’s campaign rhetoric, widely seen as appealing to racism. The Trump inaugural committee notified the college in December that the Talladega Marching Tornadoes had been chosen to take part in the parade, and it was on a list of participants released publicly last Friday. That led to two petitions on Change.org — one calling on the college to withdraw, another urging it to accept the invitation, CNN reports.
Shirley Ferrill, a 1974 graduate of the college, started the former petition. “In view of [Trump’s] behavior and comments I strongly do not want Talladega College to give the appearance of supporting him,” she wrote. The petition had received 1,999 signatures by Thursday, out of a goal of 2,500.
During the campaign, Trump said that African-Americans live “in hell” and that only he could solve their problems. “The violence. The death. The lack of education. No jobs,” he said at one point. “We’re going to work with the African-American community and we're going to solve the problem of the inner city. We’re going to bring safety back. You can't walk out on the street, you buy a loaf of bread and you end up getting shot.” And in November 2015, a Black Lives Matter protester was beaten up by white attendees at a Trump rally, and Ferrill told CNN this was the incident that most concerned her.
In the other petition, Talladega student Dollan Young wrote, “We believe that this parade is not about politics it’s about seeing first hand the process of a transition.” His petition had received 92 signatures by Thursday out of a goal of 500, but now, with Hawkins’s decision, the point is moot.
Some argued that taking part in Trump’s inauguration would harm the school’s reputation, while others said the action would enhance it. “What kid are you going to get to come here now after you just marched for Trump in a parade?” said student Ike Chukwuelue, according to CNN.
But band member Shylexis Robinson, told local TV station WVTM that the performance would “put our school on the map.” She said that participation isn’t “about Donald Trump himself, it’s about our school. And I’m all about our school and all about the band.”
The college was founded in 1867 by former slaves and has about 800 students. It’s the oldest private historically black liberal arts college in Alabama.