A petition calling on Talladega College, a historically black university in Alabama founded by former slaves, to withdraw from President-elect Donald Trump’s inaugural parade is nearing its goal of 2,500 signatures, but the school’s president says its band will perform as scheduled.
Days of controversy followed the university’s announcement last week that its marching band would perform in Trump’s inaugural parade; alumni complained that this would serve as an endorsement of Donald Trump and his incendiary rhetoric. They hoped that the outcry might convince the school to cancel the performance, but Talladega College President Billy Hawkins said on Thursday that the Marching Torpedoes will still perform.
“We respect and appreciate how our students and alumni feel about our participation in this parade,” Hawkins said in a statement. “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.”
But petition calling on the band to withdraw from the inauguration continues to gain momentum. Started on Sunday by Shirley Ferrill of the class of 1974, this petition is currently about 70 signatures short of its 2,500 signature goal.
In a phone interview, Ferrill questioned Hawkins’ premise that performing at the inauguration is not a political statement.
“To me, that’s poppycock,” Ferrill said. “We’re talking about the inauguration of the president of the United States, that being the highest political office in this country. So how do you separate that?”
Ferrill said that she and her fellow Talladega College alumni are specifically opposed to Donald Trump and that this, for them, is not an issue of Democrat versus Republican.
“This is specifically about Donald Trump because of the way he campaigned, because of his past history – even his business dealings in the past with African Americans have been negative, keeping people out of his properties, things like that. So it’s not just, ‘Oh, because this is a Republican candidate…’ No, no, no. This is because this is Donald Trump, who has said some of the foulest, vilest things, [and] who has encouraged his supporters to engage in violence.”
With the petition almost at its goal, Ferrill says she hopes Hawkins will reconsider and that she is not giving up.
“I continue in a protest mode,” Ferrill said. “We’ve got until January 20th when the actual event is scheduled, so we plan to use that time to continue our protest.”
Talladega College alumnus and president of Hampton University said in a statement released on Thursday that performing at an inauguration is an honor regardless of who is being sworn in as president and that by participating, the school is celebrating the democratic process itself.
“In my view, it is an honor to be invited to the inauguration of any President of the United States,” Hawkins 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.”
President-elect Donald Trump’s name was not mentioned a single time in Talladega College’s press release.
A rival petition started on Monday by current Talladega student and band member Dollan Young is in support of the school participating in the inaugural parade. This petition is currently 30 signatures short of its 500 signature goal.
“We believe that this parade is not about politics it’s about seeing first hand the process of a transition,” the petition reads.
This is not the first example of an organization facing criticism for agreeing to participate in the inauguration of Donald Trump. When the Mormon Tabernacle Choir announced that it will sing during the swearing-in ceremony on January 20th, the group experienced backlash both from the general public and from singers within the choir itself. Jan Chamberlin, who had been with the choir for five years, decided to quit the organization in protest.
“I could never ‘throw roses to Hitler,’ ” Chamberlin said, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. “And I certainly could never sing for him.”
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir noted that they have performed for both Democratic and Republican presidents over the years. They also pointed out that their singers are not forced to perform on January 20th; they must put their name in a lottery of volunteers.
“The Mormon Tabernacle Choir has a great tradition of performing at the inaugurals of U. S. presidents,” Ron Jarrett, president of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, said in a statement. “Singing the music of America is one of the things we do best. We are honored to be able to serve our country by providing music for the inauguration of our next president.”
A similar situation unfolded when the Radio City Rockettes announced that they will perform during the inauguration. Many within the theater community were outraged, as were some of the Rockettes themselves.
“Finding out that it has been decided for us that Rockettes will be performing at the Presidential inauguration makes me feel embarrassed and disappointed,” Phoebe Pearl, Rockettes dancer, wrote on Instagram. “The women I work with are intelligent and are full of love and the decision of performing for a man that stands for everything we’re against is appalling. I am speaking for just myself but please know that after we found out this news, we have been performing with tears in our eyes and heavy hearts.”
Leaked audio from a meeting between the Rockettes and Madison Square Garden Executive Chairman James Dolan published by Marie Claire revealed that when a Rockette said the group was being asked to tolerate intolerance, Dolan responded by saying, “Yeah, in a way, I guess we are doing that. What other choices do we have? What else would you suggest?”