Campus honors Martin Luther King Jr. with song, bells

Mark Wilson was 7 when he heard that Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated. “It was 1968, third grade,” he said. “I remember the sadness throughout our family and throughout the world. There was so much hope and so much anger. They killed our hero.”

Mark Wilson singing

Mark Wilson is the director of the gospel chorus on campus. (UC Berkeley photo by Anne Brice)

Fifty years later, Wilson, the director of the gospel chorus at UC Berkeley, led the campus community and friends today at noon in singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and “We Shall Overcome” at the base of the Campanile as a carillonist accompanied from the bell tower. The bells also rang 39 times for every year of King’s life.

Wilson, also an ordained Baptist minister — the same denomination as King — says he follows King’s tradition of social justice as liberation in his teaching.

“I try to apply these values to our music in the gospel chorus,” he said. “Next week, our concert will be titled ‘Where is the Love?’ He still gives a lot of hope to us and I think that’s the message that comes out in the music.”

people singing

Gia White (center), a Berkeley staff member, grew up singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” (UC Berkeley photo by Anne Brice)

Gia White, who has been the administrative director of the Institute of European Studies on campus for 29 years, says she grew up in the 1970s Bay Area singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

“It’s the black national anthem,” she said.

For a time, White went to an all-black after-school program, where they sang the song at every assembly.

“We all had to learn that song by memory. You had to stand up and cover your heart. It’s a moving and meaningful song,” she said. “It chronicles the struggles of our people, and it’s also a hopeful song and hope is really important these days.”

The carillon was played by Leslie Chan, a Ph.D. candidate in chemical and biomolecular engineering, who is also a student of the campus’s carillonist Jeff Davis. Davis wrote the arrangements that Chan performed.