The distant sound of the UNC bell toll rang through the Peace and Justice plaza Wednesday as students and community members shared a moment of silence in the minutes before the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s death at 6:05 p.m. on April 4, 1968. At the time of death, a recording King’s voice filled the plaza.
The evening of remembrance, hosted by the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP, began with a walk from Silent Sam to the plaza led by members of UNC Walk for Health and and UNC Black law students. The moments leading up to the national bell toll were filled with speeches by community leaders and performances by the UNC Gospel Choir, a subgroup of UNC’s Black Student Movement.
“This day is about commemorating someone who is near and dear to my heart and everybody here's heart because he actually fought for equal rights, equal opportunities for all men and all women,” said sophomore Kevin Jarman, assistant director of UNC’s Gospel Choir.
Silent Sam maintained a presence at the event, as Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP President Anna Richards reminded the crowd that the statue is a symbol of the hatred and criminality that ended King’s life. She said while tonight the bell would toll as a sign of remembrance, it is also a call to action.
“It’s a time to remember, but it’s also a time to commit. We are nowhere near done,” Richards said. “It’s 50 years and in some respects, when we look at our leadership, when we look at the culture, when we look at the atmosphere that we’re living in, times are not better.”
William Thorpe, event coordinator for UNC Walk For Health, invited UNC’s Gospel Choir and members of UNC’s Mu Zeta chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha, the oldest fraternity established for African American men, which King himself was a member of. He invited these campus groups to bring campus involvement and show that Chapel Hill is standing up for what is right, Jarman said.
“A lot of the times we can feel really small because there are not a lot of minorities on campus and so by having this day, it shows us that people actually care about us and care about what our history is about,” Jarman said.
Chapel Hill community members gathered around as the Gospel Choir performed. Among the crowd was Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue who said this day is a valuable opportunity to reflect on King’s teachings, particularly 50 years after he was struck down for these same issues.
“I think that it’s important for communities to come together and celebrate those teachings and reflect on how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go.”
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