Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration History

CorettaKing and Levi Watkins

Coretta Scott King and Levi Watkins in 1983

Levi Watkins Jr., who founded Johns Hopkins' Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration in 1982, is a medical pioneer and trailblazer. You may know that he was the first African American to enroll in and graduate from Vanderbilt University, and that implanted the first defibrillator in a human. Here's more trivia about Dr. Watkins, who retired in December as professor of cardiac surgery and associate dean of postdoctoral programs and faculty development. Feel free to share your memories of past King events, as well as the 2014 program.

  • In 1993, there were two commemorations. One featured Johnetta B. Cole, president of Spellman College in Atlanta, and the other poet Maya Angelou.
  • South African president Nelson Mandela and his then-wife Winnie had accepted Dr. Watkins' invitation to speak, eventually were unable to attend. Instead, their daughter Zenani Mandela spoke in 1987.
  • Speakers who presented more than once included Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King III, Maya Angelo and Dr. Watkins himself.
  • A native of Montgomery, Ala., Dr. Watkins and his family attended the church where Ralph Albernathy was pastor, then later attended the Dexter Baptist Church, where Dr. King was pastor.
  • Dr. Watkins became a member of Dr. King's youth group, the Crusaders. He also helped Dr. King pick up elderly congregation members from their homes and bring them to church.
  • This year's program will be held Friday, Jan. 10, from noon to 1:30 p.m. in Turner Auditorium on Johns Hopkins' East Baltimore campus.
  • Dr. Watkins shares why the King celebration is important to so many people:  "The Johns Hopkins annual King commemoration has became a spiritual and uplifting situation for many of our employees. They would always come up to me and talk about what it has meant to them and ask  who will we have next year. What will happen to the program? What became clear to me was that for many people the program has become the Hopkins epicenter for healing the past and paving the way of the future.”

Learn more about the 2014 MLK commemoration, keynote speaker Freeman Hrabowski, UMBC's president who participated in civil rights protest as a child, and the community service award winners at Also, view a 3-minute video of the past speakers, set to a selection by Unified Voices.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }


Maria McCambridge January 16, 2014 at 10:14 am

Great program!
Freeman Hrabowski, III, Ph.D., was amazing! I loved the quote he used to close his presentation:

“Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habit. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.” - Laozi

Glad that the video was made available for those of us who couldn't attend.


Brenda January 21, 2014 at 7:02 am

I agree, I also enjoyed being able to view the MLK celebration, since I wasn't able to attend. I've already copied this quote and plan on sharing with my grandchildren.


Janet Anderson January 7, 2014 at 11:09 am

This just in! View a brief video of the past speakers of the historic MLK Commemoration. It's set to music by Unified Voices. Go to


Bonnie C January 7, 2014 at 8:57 am

I thoroughly appreciate these commemorations and have enjoyed many speakers and musical guests. One that really stands out for me includes Sweet Honey In The Rock (an a cappella group). Unfortunately I have not been able to attend (due to job responsibilities) for a couple of years now.


Ruth Guthrie January 7, 2014 at 8:35 am

My family, and I love Dr. Watkins. He is one of the most wonderful, intelligent, warm, and caring people/physicians I have ever known.

I would have liked to have been at his retirement celebration.


Ruth Guthrie January 7, 2014 at 8:34 am

My family, and I love Dr. Watkins. He is one of the most wonderful, intelligent, warm, and caring people/physicians I have ever known.

I would have liked to have been at his retirement celebration.


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