By David Pendered

Clark Atlanta University will ring the long-silent bells at Harkness Hall on Easter Sunday morning in a celebration that honors the culmination of Holy Week and recognizes those touched by the COVID-19 pandemic. The tribute is to be broadcast via the school’s page on Facebook.

CAU Bells, Harkness Hall
Clark Atlanta University President George T. French Jr. looks at the bells in Harkness Hall, which are to ring on Easter Sunday for the first time since the 1990s. Credit: CAU

The program is to begin at noon and include these songs:

  • Great is thy Faithfulness – Hymn
  • Holy, Holy, Holy – Hymn
  • Old Rugged Cross – Hymn
  • America the Beautiful – Patriotic
  • Eine Kleine Nachtmusik – Mozart

“The bells at Harkness Hall have not tolled in many years,” CAU president George T. French Jr. said in a statement. “I believe on this Easter Sunday it is most appropriate that we ring them in recognition of this special day.”

As an affiliate of the United Methodist Church, CAU’s choice of Easter as the time to renew the bell was a logical selection. The arrival of the global pandemic provided an additional moment in time, to recognize those the school cited as: “first responders, front-line heroes across the world who are providing care to those suffering from the pandemic, and honor those who have lost their lives to the virus during the world-wide pandemic.”

As French said in the statement:

  • “Our world, our nation and our Clark Atlanta University community are experiencing an unprecedented crisis in the Coronavirus pandemic that we never imagined experiencing. This simple gesture is one way we encourage our students to stay safe, honor those who continue to provide healthcare on the front lines of the pandemic as well as honor those who have lost their lives to COVID-19.”

The bells now are associated with Clark Atlanta University, which is part of the city’s fabric of historically black colleges and universities that distinguishes Atlanta’s heritage. CAU is part of the Atlanta University Center, which also includes Morehouse College; Morehouse School of Medicine; and Spelman College.

Bells at Harkness Hall
The bells in the clock tower at Clark Atlanta University’s Harkness Hall have been silent since the 1990s and are to be rung on Easter Sunday following the clock tower’s restoration. Credit: CAU
The bells in the clock tower at Clark Atlanta University’s Harkness Hall have been silent since the 1990s and are to be rung on Easter Sunday following the clock tower’s restoration. Credit: CAU

Harkness Hall was built on the campus of Atlanta University and named after Edward Harkness, a benefactor of the school, according to a report on the school’s website.

Harkness used the wealth spawned by Standard Oil and other investments made by his father to pay for buildings on college campuses through his family’s Commonwealth Fund, according to a report by the fund. This era of the program lasted from about 1918 to Harkness’s death, in 1940 and provided a total of $67 million in construction funds for college structures.

The donations provided buildings at Historically Black Colleges and Universities including Atlanta University; Hampton University; Fisk University; Meharry Medical College; Talladega College; and Tuskegee University. Predominately white campuses that received buildings include Yale, Harvard, Columbia and Johns Hopkins universities; Phillips Exeter Academy, St. Paul’s School, and California Institute of Technology.

Legends about Harkness Hall and its grounds abound on the CAU campus. According to the school’s website, four bits of lore observe:

  • “The grass in front of Harkness is known as the Sacred Grass, it is said that if a CAU student steps on the grass, they will not graduate.
  • “Buried under the sacred grass is the 5th president of Atlanta University, John Hope.
  • “In Harkness Hall there are three vaults that hold the records of CAU, Morehouse, and Spelman College.
  • “It is rumored that in the vaults are passageways to each campus.”

CAU was established as a single entity in 1988 through the consolidation of Clark College and Atlanta University. Atlanta University was formed in 1865 and was the nation’s oldest college to serve a predominately African American student population, according to a report in

Note to readers: To listen to the Easter service of bells at Clark Atlanta University, visit the school’s page on Facebook.

David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written...

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