- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 18, 2017

TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) - The band from a historically black college got a big send-off - and a lot of cash - as it departed Alabama Wednesday to perform at President-elect Donald Trump’s inaugural.

Well-wishers clapped and held up signs as members of the Talladega College Marching Tornadoes boarded buses for the trip to Washington, D.C., where the band will march in Trump’s inaugural parade on Friday. Workers and volunteers handed snacks and drinks to the musicians.

Some alumni criticized the trip and didn’t want students at the college founded by former slaves performing for Trump. Some alumni didn’t want the school being linked to Trump. In the wake of publicity over the controversy, a GoFundMe account for the trip swelled to more than $628,000 from more than 10,800 donors despite having a goal of only $75,000.

President Billy C. Hawkins said he had no last-minute doubts about the decision to march in the inaugural parade, calling it a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the students.

“We’ve had so many people try to politicize this thing instead of looking at it as a learning experience for these young people. Ninety-nine percent of the students in this marching band have never been to Washington, D.C. They have no idea what Washington is like. They are going to see it tomorrow.”

The band applied for the inaugural parade before the outcome of the election, Hawkins said. He said it would be unfair to cancel the trip because people didn’t like the outcome.

Talladega College was founded by two former slaves and is the oldest historically black college in the state. Murals at the school trace the journey from slavery to freedom, including how former slaves brought goods and farm animals to pay tuition when the school opened in 1867.

The Marching Tornadoes are the pride of the tiny college in east Alabama. The band has over 200 band members at a college with just 800 students and no football team.

The controversy has been a fundraising bonanza for the band. The online fundraising campaign took off after Hawkins appeared on a Fox News show to defend the band’s performance.

Hawkins said the rest of the money in the GoFundMe account will go to band needs, including uniforms, instruments and scholarships.

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