After weeks of controversy, debate and condemnation, Talladega College, the oldest private black college in Alabama, announced its intention to join Donald Trump's inauguration proceedings. Founded in 1867 by former slaves, the college is set to have its band march in Trump's inauguration parade, despite contentious outcry from many in its student body saying the move implies support to Trump and his history of racist actions and rhetoric.
"We respect and appreciate how our students and alumni feel about our participation in this parade," Talladega College President Billy C. Hawkins said in a statement shared on a college Facebook post. "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."
Many of the college's supporters on Twitter do not feel the same way, and highlighted the absurdity: This band will be marching for a man who is notoriously disparaging of Black Lives Matter and implicitly supports a white nationalist agenda.
"We have a reputation of fighting for freedom and equal rights and justice and he doesn't stand for any of that," Shirley Ferrill, a 1974 alumnus of Talladega College and author of a Change.org petition aimed at having the band decline the participation opportunity, told CNN.
Nikky Finney, a 1979 Talladega graduate who now sits as the chair in creative writing and southern studies at the University of South Carolina, described her frustration in a clip quoted by NPR:
The news that Talladega College has forgotten its steady and proud 150 years of history, by making the decision to not stand in solidarity with other clear-eyed and courageous people, academic institutions and organizations, protesting the inauguration of one of the most antagonistic, hatred-spewing, unrepentant racists, has simply and unequivocally broken my heart today. Historical black colleges are duty-bound to have and keep a moral center and be of great moral consciousness while also teaching its students lessons about life that they will need going forward, mainly, that just because a billionaire — who cares nothing about their 150 years of American existence — invites them to a fancy, gold-plated dress-up party, they have the moral right and responsibility to say "no thank you," especially when the blood, sweat and tears and bodies, of black, brown and native people are stuffed in the envelope alongside the RSVP.
However, other supporters of the college have insisted that the opportunity has nothing to do with Trump's specific politics. Donald Morgan, a retired teacher whose family includes four Talladega College graduates, repurposed a Michelle Obama quote in his rationale for supporting the college's decision for CNN: "When they go low, we should go high. We're going to respect him whether we like him or not because he is the President of the United States."
Dollan Young, a Talladega senior, a member of the band and the author of a separate petition, agreed with the school's decision in the body of his letter. "We believe that this parade is not about politics, it's about seeing first-hand the process of a transition," Young wrote. "We are not one-track thinkers and believe everyone is entitled to [their] own beliefs."
Other bands in the parade lineup have faced similar backlash. Marist College's decision to perform drew a sharp response from students and alumni back in December. Howard University declined to perform, with band director John Newson declining to explain the faculty's reasoning in an interview with NBC4: "I think everybody knows why and no one wants to say and lose their job."
Talladega College did not immediately respond to Mic's request for comment on whether or not objecting students will be required to play in the festivities or be permitted to abstain.