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 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 recent years, 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. 

2021 Celebration

In the midst of a global pandemic, the university is celebrating the MLK holiday with a new slate of virtual events and an extended timeline that also kicks off Black History Month. 

Applying 2020 Vision in 2021: A Clear View of Our Community’s Pursuit Towards MLK’s Dream and the Existing Challenges

Please join the Honorable Matthew J. Perry, Jr. chapter of the National Black Law Students Association virtually at 6 p.m. Thursday, January 14, 2021 for this forum that will engage in a powerful discussion on the dream that Martin Luther King, Jr. had for our community and our journey towards achieving that dream. Through this dialogue we will consider the progress that we have made as a community, areas where we are still struggling, and recognize the power of our individual voices in evoking change. For this discussion we will be joined by a diverse panel of social justice professionals who will reflect on the current needs of our community, the continued pursuit for social equity, provide educational resources, and identify opportunities to become involved. Register to attend.


  • Brandon Adams, UofSC BLSA President
  • Jasmine Caruthers, BLSA member 


  • Moe Brown, former Democratic nominee for South Carolina's 5th Congressional District in 2020
  • Lyric Swinton, co-founder and Director of Engagement of Secure the Ballot, project associate at Full Circle Strategies, LLC, and Director of Diversity & Inclusion at SC Women In Leadership
  • Taylor Wright, special assistant to Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin

Students, join hands with your Carolina community to honor Dr. King’s life and to work together to help others.

9 a.m. – noon (check-in starts at 8 a.m.) 

Location: Davis Field 

The Legacy of Richard Greener in Song Virtual Concert, Live Discussion and Q&A 

The UofSC School of Music is joining the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in a month-long observation of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday via a series of virtual events. At 6 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 28, Michael Harley will be airing excerpts from a live campus performance of Jeff Scott’s “A Pioneer’s Opus” and Valerie Coleman’s “Glory” from the Southern Exposure concert series. These new works were inspired by the life and writings of Richard Greener, UofSC’s first African American professor. After the virtual concert, composer Jeff Scott (Imani Winds) and featured baritone from “Glory,” Columbia’s Kendrick Williams will take part in a live discussion with School of Music professors Michael Harley and Birgitta Johnson about the legacy of Richard Greener, the role of African Americans in modern classical music, and the ways in which social justice themes have been a part of Black artists’ legacies in the classical music field. The discussion will include include a Q&A session with virtual audience members.

This event is free but participants must register by Wednesday, Jan. 27.

Brighter Beginnings Virtual Concert, Live Discussion and Q&A

Brighter Beginnings is creating a 30-minute classic show band concert that will pay tribute to the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement and show its impact among young activists' movements of today. The 30-minute virtual concert will begin at 6 p.m. and will be followed by a 25-minute live discussion and Q&A session on the continued role of Black music in freedom movements in America.

The event is free but participants must register by Feb. 4.

Visit the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs for more events.


2021 Social Justice Awards

One highlight of the week is the announcement of the university's annual Social Justice Awards. The awards recognize individuals who exemplify the philosophies of King through random or ongoing acts of community service, social justice or racial reconciliation. 

2021 winners

The following recipients were nominated and recognized by their peers as leaders in social justice.

Nicole Cooke

Nicole Cooke

Cooke is the Augusta Baker endowed chair in the School of Information Science. In a field where more than 85 percent of the professionals are white women, Cooke stands out. And that observation inspired her desire to help diversify the field of librarians to make the profession more equitable and better reflective of the communities librarians serve. Cooke is a leader on campus through her research and classes focusing on diversity and social justice, with a goal to develop a cadre of people who can go out and do social justice work and bring others along on the journey.

Toby Jenkins

Toby S. Jenkins

Jenkins, associate professor and director of the Museum of Education, grew up in Columbia and earned her undergraduate degree from the University of South Carolina, before leaving her hometown for universities and experiences all around the globe. At every stop, she was an advocate for diversity in higher education, for forging inclusive communities and for making sure college students find a welcoming home on campuses. She is considered a national expert on cultural inclusion and the student experience in higher education, focusing particularly on the innovation and transformation of university cultural centers.

Jay Urich

Jay Urich

Urich, Gamecock football student-athlete, carried a sign proclaiming "'Matter' is the Minimum" at the Black Lives Matter protests in Columbia in the summer of 2020. It was a moment that united people across the state, including the rival football teams of South Carolina and Clemson. And it’s a moment Urich has built on since then, including starting a nonprofit, Original Design, which aims to provide resources, opportunities and supportive relationships to help underserved children around the state. The organization plans to offer camps for 10- to 12-year-olds that focus on faith, public health and sports, with the goal to help children live healthy, honorable lives.