The president of Talladega College, a historically black institution in Alabama, announced Thursday that the school’s marching band will perform in President-elect Donald Trump’s inaugural parade on Jan. 20 in Washington, DC.
Talladega, a private liberal arts school founded in 1867 by former slaves, was the only historically black college or university formally invited to participate in Trump’s inaugural celebrations in Washington, DC.
Student and alumni have clashed over the possibility, with petitions both in favor of and against the band’s performance circulating on the internet.
“We respect and appreciate how our students and alumni feel about our participation in this parade,” said Talladega College President Billy Hawkins in a press release.
“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," he added.
Hampton University President and Talladega College alumnus William Harvey echoed Hawkins in the release, saying that Talladega's participation “will be a wonderful learning experience for the students in the band."
“It will be a teachable moment for them to understand the importance of supporting the leader of the free world, despite one's political viewpoint,” Harvey added.
“After all, the reason for being of any college or university should be to promote learning and not to enhance a political agenda.”
The college will now have to raise approximately $60,000 to cover the expenses of traveling to and performing in the parade.
At least one state official has already offered to help.
Grady Thornton, a member of the Alabama Republican Executive Committee, told local paper the Anniston Star on Wednesday that he would help Talladega raise the required funds if the college accepted the invitation.
“I have access to the contact information to all 400+ members of the Alabama Republican Party," he said. "I will start the process with a $100.00 contribution.”
Tera Living, a second-year student at Talladega who has been vocal about her disapproval of the invitation, told BuzzFeed News Thursday that she is not surprised the administration accepted.
"Not for a second did I think they would turn this down," she said. "It's embarrassing."
But Talladega College alumus Christopher Wohl did not expect the school to go through with the decision.
"I thought the school had more integrity," said Wohl, who graduated in the spring of 2016. "With that decision they have shown that they value publicity over the college's values and safety of their students."
Another current student noted the irony of Hawkins' decision given a specific part of the school's history: The Amistad Murals, which tell the story of a slave revolt that eventually led to the school's establishment.
"It's ironic because Trump was supported by the KKK and white supremacist groups," said the student, who asked that their name not be used for security reasons.
"Talladega College has underground tunnels that were made for students to go to and from classes so they wouldn't be killed by the KKK," the student added.