The University of South Carolina honors the life of civil rights leader Martin Luther
King Jr. with an annual series of service-focused activities and events.
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 university's 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.
Days 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. In 2019, the celebration included
the university’s annual Social Justice Awards; a film screening and panel discussion;
a commemorative breakfast; a day of community-based service; and, a fine arts-centered
celebration. Various university programs and offices complement the university’s commemoration
with a variety of events in connection with the MLK holiday.
2020 Social Justice Awards
One highlight of the week is the announcement of the university's annual Social Justice
Awards during the MLK Commemorative Breakfast. The awards recognize individuals who
exemplify the philosophies of King through random or ongoing acts of community service,
social justice or racial reconciliation. The following recipients were nominated and
recognized by their peers as leaders in social justice.
Cook is an associate professor in the College of Education and program coordinator
for secondary social studies. A scholar activist, her work centers around dismantling
inequitable systemic structures and empowering marginalized communities to realize
their vision for education. Cook's research explores narratives of black educators,
public policy on community engagement and student access to rigorous curricula — a
critical component to eliminate racial and economic gaps in student achievement. She
has also served on numerous boards for community, university and professional organizations,
including as president of the Critical Race Studies in Education Association, and
was recently appointed to the South Carolina Advisory Committee of the U.S. Commission
on Civil Rights.
Drawing on personal experiences, Haynes, assistant director of the Center for Teaching
Excellence, advocates for two often invisible populations: first-generation college
students and people with speech impediments. In conversations at the university, she
offers perspective about the social and economic inequalities that first-generation
students face and shares strategies for supporting them. She also established a scholarship
fund for first-generation/low-income students to help break down financial barriers
to education. Aiming to raise awareness about speech disorders, she partnered to bring
a film about the psychological impact of stuttering to campus, and serves as a role
model by discussing her stuttering in public remarks.
C. Spencer Platt
Platt is an associate professor in the College of Education and is associate director
of the Center for Innovation in Higher Education. His professional life is framed
by his commitment to drive greater understanding of civil rights issues in education
and equip future teachers and scholars to make meaningful change. At the university, Platt
has created new courses to push students’ critical thinking about equity and has written
articles and book chapters on underrepresented populations. As a mentor, he has supported
countless graduate students and junior faculty members, many of color, directly contributing
to increasing faculty diversity. He co-founded the Critical Race Theory Summer Institute
and serves as a faculty affiliate for the Center for Excellence and Equity for African
American Students at South Carolina.
Samuel, a senior majoring in early childhood education with special education certification,
is a role model who promotes equity and inclusiveness with peers and students. As
vice president of the College of Education’s student organization Race, Equity and
Advocacy in Childhood, she creates a safe, family-like space for open, confidential
dialogue to promote reconciliation. Inspired by a trip to Tanzania, she teaches her
students to learn from each other and appreciate uniqueness. As a student teacher
in an urban setting with many Spanish-speaking students, Samuel created a unit about
the brilliance of being multilingual to validate her students and combat negative
stereotypes about immigrants. She is also active in campus community service activities
that support lower-income families.