President of Historically Black Alabama College Says Marching Band Will Play at Trump’s Inaugural Parade

The campus of Talladega College on Wednesday. To a number of alumni, the announcement last month that the band would march in the parade was an insult to the principles of the college. (Kevin D. Liles for The New York Times)
The campus of Talladega College on Wednesday. To a number of alumni, the announcement last month that the band would march in the parade was an insult to the principles of the college. (Kevin D. Liles for The New York Times)

For a band at a tiny, little-known, historically black college, it seems in some ways to be the gig of a lifetime: a chance to march and perform at the Jan. 20 presidential inaugural parade in Washington. Some of the musicians at Talladega College have been excited to see the capital for the first time.

But because the president-elect is Donald J. Trump, the school has become the subject of an impassioned national outcry, with online petitions, threats to end donations and a flurry of how-could-yous from alumni who feel that performing in the parade would betray the values of an institution founded by newly freed slaves 150 years ago.

On Thursday, after days of speculation that the college administration might bow to the pressure and remove the band from the parade roster, the president of Talladega College, Billy Hawkins, issued a statement confirming the participation of the band, the Marching Tornadoes, and argued, in essence, that the 58th presidential inauguration is about something bigger than Mr. Trump.

“We respect and appreciate how our students and alumni feel about our participation in this parade,” Dr. Hawkins said. “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.”

Similar issues have been raised about other entertainers scheduled to perform, among them the Radio City Rockettes and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. But because of Talladega’s history, the issues have been especially intense here, with calls for the college to reverse its decision to take part in the festivities.

And beyond Talladega, the controversies raise tough questions for Mr. Trump’s most ardent critics as his presidency dawns: What is the proper response to a president as polarizing as Mr. Trump? Should the office of the president be honored, no matter who fills it? Or should there be four years of pure rejection and defiance?

And if Mr. Trump’s opponents refuse to participate in his presidency, can critics on the right do the same thing to some other president-elect in the future?

To a number of Talladega alumni, the Dec. 30 announcement that the band would march in the parade was an insult to the very principles of the college, which was established two years after the end of the Civil War. The school is affiliated with the United Church of Christ, a liberal Protestant denomination that was deeply involved in the civil rights movement, and for decades it served as an incubator for theories and practices of social justice.

Nikky Finney, a poet and Talladega graduate who is now a professor at the University of South Carolina, said in a statement this week that the band should not help celebrate Mr. Trump, who, she said, has maligned women and Mexican immigrants and has proposed barring all Muslims from entering the country. In an interview on Thursday, Ms. Finney, channeling a James Brown lyric, said the college had “sold out the history of Talladega College for chicken change” and “maybe a tin star on a hatemonger’s parade route.”

As of Thursday afternoon, an online petition calling for the band to withdraw from the inaugural parade had attracted more than 1,900 signers, some of them supporters of the college who have threatened to withhold future contributions.

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SOURCE: NY Times, Richard Fausset

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