Talladega College, the first college in Alabama to admit students of African-American descent and founded by two former slaves, rejected calls from the United Church of Christ and alumni to withdraw the participation of the school's band in the 58th Presidential Inaugural Parade slated for Jan. 20.
In a letter to Talladega College President Billy Hawkins last week, the UCC said their national leaders, the Revs. John Dorhauer, Traci Blackmon and James Moos, asked for dialogue hoping to convince Hawkins to remove the school's Marching Tornadoes band from the parade roster for President-elect Donald Trump.
"It seems incongruent that a Historically Black College and University with such rich and significant history would now agree to participate in the inaugural ceremonies of a man whose political platform and proposed cabinet appointments are the antithesis of the very principles on which Talladega College was founded," the leaders reportedly wrote in the letter.
In a statement from Talladega College, however, Hawkins confirmed that the band will march in Trump's parade.
"Talladega College President Billy Hawkins confirms the Marching Tornadoes will participate in the 58th Presidential Inaugural Parade. The lessons students can learn from this experience cannot be taught in a classroom, as Talladega student Dollan Young acknowledges in a petition he started in support of the band's inaugural parade performance," the school stated.
In his petition advocating the participation of the band, Young said: "We believe that this parade is not about politics, it's about seeing firsthand the process of a transition. It's not to support of (sic) no political party it's about the experience that the students will obtain. We are not one-track thinkers and believe everyone is entitled to their own beliefs. However, we are in support of the United States of America."
School officials say the decision to allow the Marching Tornadoes to participate in the parade was not made very easily because they wanted to consider "the thoughts and feelings of the Talladega College community."
"We respect and appreciate how our students and alumni feel about our participation in this parade," said Hawkins in the 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."
Talladega alumnus and Hampton University President William R. Harvey agreed with Hawkins in a letter of support.
"It 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," wrote Harvey. "After all, the reason for being of any college or university should be to promote learning and not to enhance a political agenda."
Harvey further added: "In my view, it is an honor to be invited to the inauguration of any president of the United States. The college and its band are celebrating the peaceful transition of power — a hallmark of America's democracy and swearing in of a new president."