Campus & Community

Charles Willie to speak at Martin Luther King Jr. service

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Charles V. Willie and Martin Luther King
Charles V. Willie (left) prepares to introduce Martin Luther King Jr. at a rally at Syracuse University in the 1960s. The two men first met when both were teen-age students at Morehouse College.

Scholar and activist Charles Willie will speak Monday, Jan. 21, at the annual service celebrating the life and message of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Willie, the Charles William Eliot Professor of Education Emeritus at the Graduate School of Education, will speak on “The Ethical Foundations of Dr. King’s Political Action.” The Kuumba Singers, Harvard College’s 90-member choir dedicated to the expression of black creativity and spirituality through song, will also perform.

Willie was King’s classmate at Morehouse College (Class of 1948). They both entered the college in 1944, when Morehouse had decided to enroll younger students in its freshman class to make up for the numbers of students who were fighting in World War II. King was 15 years old; Willie was 16. Both went on to very distinguished careers.

Willie is a sociologist whose areas of research include desegregation, higher education, public health, race relations, urban community problems, and family life. He was appointed by President Carter to the President’s Commission on Mental Health and has been a member of the board of directors of the Social Science Research Council.

Willie has also served as a consultant, expert witness, court appointed guardian, and master in major school desegregation cases in cities such as Boston, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Kansas City, Little Rock, Milwaukee, San Jose, Seattle, and St. Louis. Willie is the author of over 100 articles and 25 books on issues of race, education, and urban communities.

Founded in 1970 as a source of unity and strength for black students, the Kuumba Singers are presently Harvard’s largest multicultural organization. The Kuumba Singers explore and share the rich musical tradition of black culture through African folk songs, Negro spirituals, traditional and contemporary gospel, master choral works, and original compositions.

The service will take place at 5 p.m. in the Memorial Church. It is sponsored by the United Ministry at Harvard, the Memorial Church, the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations, Student Inter-religious Collaborative, and the Harvard Black Students Association. The event is free and open to the public. A reception will follow.

Past speakers at the annual service include the Rev. Martin Luther King Sr., the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, and former U.S. Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm.