The marching band of Alabama's oldest private, historically black liberal arts college has accepted an invitation to perform at President-elect Donald Trump's inaugural parade, the school confirmed Thursday.
Talladega College's band will march at Trump's inauguration as other historically black schools such as Howard University, which performed at President Barack Obama's first inaugural parade, said they won't be marching in the Jan. 20 event.
"We respect and appreciate how our students and alumni feel about our participation in this parade," Talladega College President Billy Hawkins said in a statement Thursday. "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."
The move lit up Talladega College's social media sites with sharp debate about the band's decision to participate in the parade.
Some people voiced strong opposition amid concerns that marching in a parade honoring Trump's election is tantamount to endorsing the racially-charged rhetoric that took place during his campaign. The sons of two deceased Talladega graduates posted on Facebook that they are returning their parents' diplomas in opposition to the school's decision to march.
"Both of our parents have passed away since receiving this cherished recognition from the College. But we have no doubt that they would be angered and deeply disappointed if they knew of the plans for Talladega College to pay tribute to Donald Trump by participating in his inaugural," Peter, David and Steven Rasmussen wrote. "Mr. Trump has demonstrated in innumerable ways, during the electoral campaign and his time as president-elect, that he is the antithesis of all they worked and stood for and of the values they nurtured in their students."
Other alumni expressed similar sentiments.
"We were a bit horrified to hear of the invitation," said Shirley Ferrill of Fairfield, Alabama, a member of Talladega's Class of 1974. "I don't want my alma mater to give the appearance of supporting him," Ferrill said of Trump on Monday. "Ignore, decline or whatever, but please don't send our band out in our name to do that."
Some of the criticism centered on worries that the school's decision is a betrayal both the African Americans' hard-fought political gains and to the other historically black colleges and universities which opted not to apply to march in the parade.
"After how black people were treated at Trump's rallies, you're going to go and shuck and jive down Pennsylvania Avenue? For what?" Seinya SamForay said in an interview. "What they did is a slap in the face to other black universities."
SamForay, of Chicago, was among dozens of people commenting on the school's social media sites.
The Presidential Inaugural Committee announced Friday that the Talladega College Marching Tornadoes was among 40 groups, including high school bands and military organizations, scheduled to perform in the parade. Some members of the Marist College band in upstate New York, also scheduled to perform at the inauguration, say they won't participate, a school spokesman said Monday.
Ron White of Atlanta, a 1997 graduate of another historically black college, Fort Valley State University in Georgia, said he questioned why band members from Talladega "should be playing all these patriotic tunes for someone who has degraded us."
At the same time, though, White said he respects the office of the president and he hopes that Talladega's band does well.
"What they should do in my opinion is play that national anthem the best way they've ever played it in their life, because you're basically saluting the country," White said in an interview.
The nation's historically black colleges and universities instill in students the idea that "ignored behavior is condoned behavior," said Reese Walker of Memphis, who marched in the band at Mississippi Valley State University. That's one reason he doesn't think Talladega College should participate.
The college was founded in 1867, by the descendants of the slaves who helped to build its first building, according to historical documents on the college's website.
The decision to march in Trump's inaugural parade has also sparked controversy at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York. The band will be marching, but some of its members will be staying home, school spokesman Greg Cannon said Monday.
"They don't want to have anything to do with the inauguration or President Trump and we respect that, and that's their right," Cannon said.
"We're not looking to put anybody in a spot that conflicts with their personal beliefs," he added.
About six to eight Marist band members among more than 100 have said they won't perform, Cannon said. He said there won't be any repercussions for those students, and they will still have a place in the band when it returns from Washington, D.C.