Talladega College isn’t known for its football team — because it doesn’t have one. But it does have a band — the 200-member Marching Tornadoes. It is the pride of the campus in this small town about 50 miles east of Birmingham.
The Presidential Inaugural Committee included Talladega’s band on its list of participants in the traditional inauguration day parade.
But the invitation to Washington, D.C., stirred angst for some — because of President-elect Donald Trump’s divisive campaign rhetoric.
Talladega was founded by former slaves 150 years ago and was the first college in Alabama to accept African-American students.
A debate erupted on campus and around the nation as to whether Talladega should go. Yesterday, college president Billy Hawkins announced the Marching Tornadoes will participate.
Band member Darrious Hayes agreed with the decision. He’s been in the band since 2014, his freshman year, and sees the trip to the inauguration as an opportunity. He says this will be his first visit to the nation’s capital.
“The alumni don’t want us to go because of Trump,” says Hayes. “But we’re saying it’s not because of Donald Trump. It’s because of the experience.”
Participation in this inauguration is not popular for some Talladega alums like Shirley Ferrill, a 1974 graduate. She says what Trump said on the campaign trail is not consistent with the values of Talladega College.
“To have them take part in anything that smacks of support for Donald Trump makes me sick,” says Ferrill
Some members of other groups like the Rockettes and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir have had similar concerns about performing in the inauguration. For Ferrill, this issue is bound up with Talladega’s history.
“I do care what others think about the college’s participation,” she says. “I care about the reputation Talladega has established over 150 years and I think that reputation would be damaged by the college participating.”
Ferrill launched an online petition calling for Talladega to decline the invitation. More than 1,600 people signed it.
No college administrators would answer questions about the decision to go. A Talladega spokeswoman did say it’s a good opportunity for students.
The Talladega Marching Tornadoes played at an NFL game in New Orleans last year. But this performance at the 58th Presidential Inauguration will be its biggest ever.