The marching band of a historically black college in Alabama will perform in Donald Trump’s inaugural parade later this month, a decision which has proven to be highly controversial.
When Talladega College’s marching band initially agreed to participate in the inaugural parade, they faced an onslaught of criticism from students and alumni alike. In response, the school’s president, President Billy Hawkins, said the decision to attend the parade was not yet finalized.
But on Thursday morning, Hawkins announced the marching band would indeed march in the inaugural parade, according to CNN.
Here’s what you need to know about the Talladega College Marching Band and the controversy surrounding their decision to march for Donald Trump.
1. A Petition Asking the Band to Withdraw Has Garnered Nearly 2,000 Signatures
Shirley Ferrill, a graduate of the Talladega College class of 1974, launched a petition on Charge.org this week calling on the Marching Tornadoes to withdraw from the inaugural parade.
“In view of his behavior and comments I strongly do not want Talladega College to give the appearance of supporting him,” Ferill wrote.
A goal of 2,500 signatures was set on the petition, and at this time it has been signed by almost 1,900 individuals.
“When the KKK celebrates a presidential candidate’s win, that is evidence that black people should beware, not be joining the celebratory activities,” one signee wrote. “Taladaga should withdraw from the parade.”
In an interview with The New York Times, Nikky Finney, a graduate of Talladega College and a professor at the University of South Carolina said, “We cannot normalize hate. I will never become accustomed to the idea or the thought, even after the inauguration.”
2. The University’s President Says Performing in the Parade Is Not a Political Statement
Those calling on Talladega College to drop out of the inaugural performance argue that marching on January 20th is a sign that the university endorses Donald Trump and his beliefs.
But Talladega College President Billy C. Hawkins disagrees, saying that the inauguration is about more than one individual.
“We respect and appreciate how our students and alumni feel about our participation in this parade,” Hawkins said on Thursday after reaching his decision. “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.”
On Facebook, Shirley Ferrill, the alumnus who started the petition, expressed bewilderment with the idea that the inaguration of a new president is not a political event.
3. The School Was Founded by Former Slaves
Talladega College is the oldest historically black college in the United States. It was founded in 1867 by William Savery and Thomas Tarrant, two former slaves from Talladega, Alabama, according to the university’s website.
The school was originally intended to provide an education to the children of former slaves in Alabama. It started as a one-room schoolhouse built out of lumber salvaged from a carpenter’s shop, and it soon expanded when its founders purchased the building of a nearby Baptist Academy that was having financial difficulties. This neighborhing building was built by slaves, including Savery and Tarrant themselves.
“Thus, a building constructed with slave labor for white students became the home of the state’s first private, liberal arts college dedicated to servicing the educational needs of blacks,” the university writes on its website.
Talladega College is affiliated with the United Church of Christ, a Protestant Christian denomination.
4. A Rival Petition Was Launched Encouraging the Band to Attend
Some at Talladega College feel differently about the inauguration performance and agree with the university president’s decision. A rival petition was launched on Change.org this week encouraging the band to perform in the parade.
“We believe that this parade is not about politics it’s about seeing first hand the process of a transition,” Dollan Young, creator of the petition, writes. “Its not to support of no political party its about the experience that the students will obtain. We are not one-track thinkers and believe everyone is entitled to the own beliefs.”
Those signing this petition said that they believe this is a great opportunity for the band and that it is an honor to be able to perform at any inauguration, regardless of who the president is.
However, this petition is significantly less popular; it currently has 395 signatures, while the petition calling on the band to drop out has 1,884 signatures.
5. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir & The Radio City Rockettes Have Also Faced Criticism for Agreeing to Perform at the Inauguration
This is not the first time that a group has experienced backlash for saying that they will perform at the presidential inauguration. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir announced last month that it would be singing at the inauguration of Donald Trump, and they were criticized both by the public and by those within the choir.
In fact, Jan Chamberlin, who has been with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir for five years, decided she would leave the group because she was not willing to perform for President-elect Donald Trump.
“I could never ‘throw roses to Hitler,’ ” Chamberlin said in her resignation letter, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. “And I certainly could never sing for him.”
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir itself does not believe that their performance makes any sort of a political statement; they have in the past performed for presidents of both parties, including Lyndon Johnson and George H.W. Bush.
The Radio City Rockettes will also be performing at the inauguration. When this announcement was made, many Rockettes expressed their outrage, and the controversy was addressed at a recent meeting between the Rockettes and Madison Square Garden executive chairman James Dolan, as reported by Marie Claire.
“The social media backlash on both sides of the political spectrum has been unbearable, I think,” one dancer said during the meeting, according to Marie Claire. “Especially as someone who has loved and respected the Rockettes since I was three years old. I think that the Rockettes have always been apolitical, and now by performing at this particular inauguration, it’s making us political.”