The Crusader Newspaper Group

Sons of former Talladega teachers return degrees over school’s inauguration decision

By Elizabeth Aguirre,

David Rasmussen and his brothers believe their parents, Donald and Lore Rasmussen, who once taught at Alabama’s Talladega College would be deeply disappointed in the school’s decision to allow the school band to play at President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration.

So disappointed in fact, that they returned their parents’ honorary doctoral degrees.

Officials at Talladega College, Alabama’s oldest private HBCU, confirmed that the band will be performing during the inauguration on Jan. 20, but many have expressed disappointment with the decision.

The Rasmussens taught at Talladega from 1942 to 1955 and raised their sons, David, Peter and Steven on the campus. The couple had stood against the rampant racial segregation in the south, according to their sons. They also took positions against all types of fascism. In fact, Lore Rasmussen was a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany. As a student at Columbia University, she left in disgust after one semester after discovering Columbia had gained favor with Adolph Hitler’s government by taking part in the 1937 celebration of the 550th anniversary of Heidelberg University.

In a letter posted to David Rasmussen’s Facebook page, he expresses his discord with Talladega’s decision to move forward with the performance.

“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,” he writes. “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.”

The brothers are urging the University to reconsider their decision to allow the band to perform at Trump’s inauguration “in recognition of the principled history of the College and of the many people,” Rasmussen wrote, “including our parents, who gave of themselves to advance the cause of social justice and equality in Talladega’s name.”

The Rasmussens earned their honorary doctorate degrees in Human Letters from the university in 2003. At the time then President Henry Ponder noted their “untiring fight to ensure the human dignity of all persons” and that “at great personal peril [they had] led the struggle for civil rights”, according to their son’s letter to the university.

The family holds that their parent’s would no longer wish to keep the honorary degrees, considering their struggle to advance civil rights while they were alive.

In a press release, Talladega president Billy C. Hawkins defended accepting the invitation to perform.

“The lessons students can learn from this experience cannot be taught in a classroom,” Hawkins said. “We respect and appreciate how our students and alumni feel about our participation in this parade. 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.”


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