Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

MLK Celebration

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 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. 

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.

2019 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. In 2019, the following recipients were nominated and recognized by their peers as leaders in social justice.

Dr. Rajeev Bais

Dr. Rajeev Bais

Bais, an infectious disease expert, is the founder of the Carolina Survivor Clinic, which serves the long-term needs of resettled refugees in the Columbia metro area. The clinic provides health care, English-language instruction for adults, tutoring and soccer programs for youth, and a therapeutic garden. About 400 student volunteers serve at the clinic.

Maureen Grewe

Maureen Grewe

Grewe, director of student conduct, has taught University 101 since 2011. She is involved in the Junior League of Columbia, a nonprofit that focuses on the development of women, volunteerism and strengthening the health and well-being of children and families in the Midlands.

Chelsea Jimenez

Chelsea Jimenez

Jimenez, a senior in the College of Education’s early childhood program, is interested in pedagogies focused on equity, cultural relevance and anti-racism. Last year, she won first place in the education category at the annual Southeastern Association of Educational Opportunity Program Personnel conference for her research on teaching young African-American students how to code-switch.

Lyric Swinton

Lyric Swinton

Swinton, a junior in the College of Hospitality and Sport Management, is a first-generation college student and the first-ever secretary of inclusion and equity in student government. She was the only undergraduate speaker at the inaugural TEDxUofSC event in October 2018.