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Historically black college faces backlash over band's plan to perform at inauguration

By JOE HEIM | The Washington Post | Published: January 3, 2017

A historically black college's decision to have its marching band participate in President-elect Donald Trump's inauguration parade on Jan. 20 is coming under fire from some of the school's alumni, students and Trump opponents across the country.

In the days since the Talladega College Marching Tornado Band announced that it would take part in the parade, it has been hammered on Facebook and social media by critics who have called on the 150-year-old Alabama school to cancel its appearance in the parade. No other bands from historically black colleges will be marching through Washington on the day Trump is sworn in.

"My first reaction was 'Oh, hell no.' That's just wrong on so many levels," said Shirley Ferrill, a 1974 Talladega graduate who set up a online petition asking the school to change its decision because she believes the Trump administration will be detrimental to African Americans. She says many of her friends and classmates feel similarly.

"To perform at the inaugural smacks of some level of support for Trump," Ferrill said. "The man has been consistently nasty and vile to African Americans in general. I find him totally reprehensible. I believe there is saving grace for every human being, but he hasn't shown that he wants to seek it."

If the band does choose to go ahead with its plans to perform, Ferrill says she "will be very disappointed and upset."

The parade, which is expected to last about three hours and will include approximately 8,000 participants representing more than 40 organizations, is slated to begin on Pennsylvania Avenue NW near the U.S. Capitol and will head west toward the White House. There, President Trump and his family and invited guests and dignitaries will look on from a viewing stand.

While most of the online reaction to the school's decision has been negative, others have said the 200-member band should take part in the historic day. Dollan Young, a senior who is a member of the band, started a separate online petition to garner support for the band's performance.

"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."

As with all other participants, the Talladega College marching band applied to take part the inaugural parade, according to a spokesman with the Presidential Inaugural Committee. It is unclear, however, whether the school will require all band members to participate.

The school's president, Billy C. Hawkins, did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday. Attempts to reach Talladega's Board of Trustees Chairman Harry Coaxum and the marching band's director were unsuccessful. A representative of the school said Hawkins plans to make a statement addressing the issue on Wednesday.

Founded by former slaves during Reconstruction, the school of 1,500 students is one of a number of historically black colleges that opened its doors shortly after the end of the Civil War.

At least two other colleges that are sending bands to the inauguration - Marist College in New York and Olivet Nazarene University in Illinois - also are facing criticism on social media from students and alumni for taking part in the event.

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