Students and alumni of Talladega College — the oldest historically black, private liberal arts school in Alabama — are fiercely divided on whether or not the school should accept President-elect Donald Trump’s invitation to the marching band to perform at the inaugural parade in Washington, DC on Jan. 20.
Of the 41 organizations formally invited by the Presidential Inaugural Committee, Talladega College — founded in 1867 by former slaves — is the only historically black college or university (HBCU).
Howard University, an HBCU based in DC that played during President Barack Obama’s first inauguration, did not apply to march in the parade.
Howard University’s band director, John Newson, told NBC Washington in December that the ensemble had too few members, and suggested conflicting political views were at play for other institutions. "I think everybody knows why and no one wants to say and lose their job," he said.
A spokesperson for Talladega has said that the president Billy Hawkins has not made a final decision about the school’s participation and that he is expected to make an announcement soon. Talladega College did not respond to multiple requests for comment from BuzzFeed News.
In the meantime, petitions began circulating both in favor of and against the marching band’s performance, and the school has faced harsh criticism on social media.
The former was created by Dollan Young, a current student at Talladega College. In it, he claims that supporters of the petition “believe that this parade is not about politics, it’s about seeing first hand the process of a transition.”
Young adds that the Talladega College Marching Tornadoes performing in the inaugural parade is “not to support of no political party its [sic] about the experience that the students will obtain. We are not one-track thinkers and believe everyone is entitled to the own beliefs.”
At the time of publication, Young’s petition had 282 signatures out of a desired 500.
Shirley Ferril, a Talladega alumna, started the petition calling for the school not to march.
Ferril, who graduated from Talladega College in 1974, wrote that in light of President-elect Trump’s “behavior and comments I strongly do not want Talladega College to give the appearance of supporting him.”
At the time of publication, Ferril’s petition has received 1,312 out of a desired 1,500 signatures.
Tera Living, a second-year student at Talladega, told BuzzFeed News that the possibility of performing for Trump’s inaugural parade contradicts the values administrators advocated for during the election.
“One of the things that we talked about for our convocation was that we owe it to ourselves to put someone in office who stood for the same issues that we did, who didn’t put us in a category called ‘the blacks,’” Living said.
“But the very people who may make the decision for us to go and participate are the very people who told us that it is our duty as African Americans to go to the polls and vote so that people like him could not be in office,” she added.
Living, who has friends that march in the band, added that they do not have a say as to where, or for whom, they play.
“Everybody sees it as an honor to be recognized, but what are we being recognized for?” she asked.
Joshua McFee, who graduated from Talladega in 2015, said that he is “completely against” the band performing “because of the message I feel like it sends, performing for Donald Trump.”
He added that he’s spoken to people who have mentioned the honor of performing at a presidential inauguration.
“I agree, it is an honor,” McFee said. “But I’m more concerned with who we’re performing for versus where we’re performing.”