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Office of Diversity and Inclusion

MLK Celebration



The University of South Carolina honors the life of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. with a series of service-focused activities and events beginning Jan. 17, 2019.

 The University of South Carolina began honoring the life of Martin Luther King Jr. three years before his birthdate was declared a federal holiday by President Ronald Reagan and 14 years before then-Governor Jim Hodges signed the holiday into law across the state of South Carolina.

Honoring a Civil Rights Leader

In January 1983, the USC Black Alumni Caucus sponsored the first university program. The group continued to sponsor the event, held in Rutledge Chapel, until 1986. In 1986, the program was expanded and moved to the Russell House Ballroom featuring King’s daughter, Yolanda King, as keynote speaker. In 1999 then-President John M. Palms canceled classes and declared the day a university-wide day of service. That tradition continues today under the leadership of President Harris Pastides. 

A Week of Service and Reflection

More than 30 years later the Rutledge Chapel service has grown into a major university tradition with a wide-ranging week of activities, including a commemorative breakfast, a day of service, and the university’s Social Justice Awards. Various university programs and offices complement the university’s commemoration with a variety of events in connection with the MLK holiday. Tickets to each event are currently available for purchase.


When: Thursday, January 17, 2019 at 6 p.m.

Where: Karen J. Williams Courtroom

The Honorable Matthew J. Perry Chapter of the National Black Law Student Association will host the screening of a documentary, “I Am Somebody,” which centers on Coretta Scott King and the hospital workers strike in Charleston, SC in 1969. Following the documentary, there will be a panel discussion featuring Jaribu Hill, a judge, human rights attorney and executive director of the Mississippi Workers’ Center for Human Rights; Gicola Lane, a community advocate, organizer and leader of a non-profit to assist low-income Nashville citizens with bail; and Louise Brown, one of the 12 former nurse assistants that initiated the Charleston Hospital Workers Strike. School of Law graduate Lashawnda Woods-Roberts with the South Carolina Appleseed Justice Center will moderate the panel. The event is free and open to the public.

When: Friday, January 18, 2019 at 7:30 a.m.

Where: The Zone at Williams Brice

Tickets available

Delivering the keynote address is Zenith Houston, ’91 B.A. criminal justice, ’96 M.A. criminal justice, who is the director of The Posse Foundation in Atlanta. The Posse Foundation, which began in 1989, identifies public high school students with extraordinary academic and leadership potential who may be overlooked by traditional college selection processes. Prior to joining The Posse Foundation, Houston was the Regional Development Director in Chicago for National Jewish Health, an academic and medical center based in Denver, Colorado specializing in respiratory, cardiac, immune and allergic disorders. Houston also completed the Executive Education Strategic Perspectives in Nonprofit Management at Harvard Business School. The annual Social Justice awards will also be awarded during the breakfast. See this year's winners below.

When:  Saturday., Jan. 19, 2019 from 8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

Where: Check-in located at Davis Field (by the reflecting pool in front of Thomas Cooper Library.)

Organized by the Leadership and Service Center, this day of service is one of many across the United States. Join with fellow students to serve others in your community from 8:30 a.m. -12:30 p.m.

When: Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019 at 6 p.m.

Where: Booker T. Washington Auditorium

Tickets available

This year’s event includes excerpts from King’s “The Beloved Community” speech and performances by USC’s gospel choir A Touch of Faith, gospel recording artist John Lakin, Christian rap artist Big Redd and additional celebrations of music and theater.

Doors for the show open at 5 p.m. and the show begins at 6 p.m. Tickets for Freedom Rings are $10 for faculty, staff and the public.