MLK Celebration History

The first student-organized Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Service was held at the University in January 1982.  The student group, Men Interested in Alpha (MIA), worked with the Greenville graduate chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. to organize this commemorative observance at the newly renovated Tillman Hall Auditorium.  In 1983, MIA group members became charter members of the Pi Alpha Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.  Over the years, the Pi Alpha Chapter has continued its involvement with Clemson’s Martin Luther King, Jr. observance.

Early speakers for the commemorative observance included Dr. Charles T. Battle, M.D., Seneca; the Rev. Sammy Jackson, pastor, St. James United Methodist Church, Seneca; the honorable Frank Gilbert, former S.C. state senator; the Rev. James O. Rich, pastor, St. Paul Baptist Church, Anderson; and Dr. Lewis Suggs, former professor of history at Clemson.

In the fall of 1986, the Student Government Minority Council (now Council on Diversity Affairs), Pi Alpha Chapter and the Clemson University Black History and Culture Committee organized the first commemorative march to precede the service.  Originally, the march was held from the old band practice field to Tillman Hall Auditorium.  By the late 80’s, the march and service were firmly established as dual events.

The spring of 1998 marked a year of renewed commitment from the University with the formation of the MLK Enhancement Committee (composed of Pi Alpha Chapter, Undergradaute Student Government Council on Diversity Affairs, Clemson staff and faculty, and community members) and funding from the Office of the President for the MLK celebration.  This funding and strong administrative support from the then Gantt Intercultural Center (now Gantt Multicultural Center) have helped expand the celebration to include a day of service and a variety of other programs for the campus and community.  The increased funding and support have also enabled the committee to bring nationally recognized speakers to campus such as Myrlie Evers-Williams, Susan L. Taylor, Ossie Davis, Dorothy Cotton, Dr. David Levering Lewis, Ed Gordon, Ambassador Andrew Young, the Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery, Barbara Cross, Dr. Samuel DuBois Cook, Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski, III, Senator Carol Moseley Braun, Nontombi Naomi Tutu, Harry E. Johnson, Sr., David Hilliard and Dr. Bob Zellner.

Past Speakers

The Celebration features keynote speakers who give their perspective on Dr. King’s Legacy and how it applies to today’s society. Speakers are listed in reverse order of their appearance at Clemson.

Dr. Marc Lamont Hill
Professor, News Correspondent, and Activist

Angela Davis
Social Activist, Professor, and Writer

Dr. Dorothy Cowser Yancey
President Emerita of Johnson C. Smith University

Maya Wiley, Esq.
Civil Rights Activist

Jennifer Pinckney
Survivor of Mother Emmanuel Shooting

Dr. Walter Kimbrough
Seventh President of Dillard University


Sybrina Fulton
Mother of Trayvon Martin

Dr. Brian Johnson
Seventh President of Tuskegee University

Dr. Bob Zellner
Civil Rights Activist, former Freedom Rider and Author

David Hilliard
Founding Member and former Chief of Staff, Black Panther Party

Harry E. Johnson, Sr., Esq.
President / CEO MLK Memorial Foundation

Nontombi Naomi Tutu
Human Rights Activist

Carol Moseley Braun
Entrepreneur, Ambassador & Former Senator

Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski, III

Dr. Samuel DuBois Cook

Barbara Cross
Speaker & Activist

Rev. Joseph Lowery
Leader & Activist

Andrew Young
Ambassador & Former Mayor

Ed Gordon
TV Host & Journalist

Dorothy Cotton
Professor & Activist

David Levering Lewis
Historian & Author

Susan Taylor
Publisher & Entrepreneur

Ossie Davis
Actor & Activist

Manning Marable

Myrlie Evers-Williams
Civil Rights Activist