Joyce Ann Ladner’s life has been shaped through her first-hand involvement with the civil rights movement in Mississippi, including her work as a staff member alongside Bayard Rustin and other civil rights leaders that organized the March on Washington in 1963. As a teenager, she helped organize an NAACP Youth Chapter in her hometown, she was expelled from college for organizing a civil rights protest, and she was jailed for attempting to integrate an all-white church.

Ladner, who was a friend and worked with slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, as well as civil rights pioneers Fannie Lou Hamer and Ella Baker, is the keynote speaker during the 35th Annual Madison & Dane County King Holiday Observance on Jan. 20. As a field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), she was on the frontlines of most of the major civil rights protests of the sixties. She was on the stage when Dr. Martin Luther King delivered the “I have a dream” speech. 

“We were that post-war generation in the South raised at a time when our parents taught us to stand up for ourselves,” Ladner said during a talk on C-Span3. “We were of the era when white kids’ fathers were getting jobs and had the economics to expansion and material goods. And we saw we were getting those.

“We were that generation brought up on fire and brimstone and believing in old testament profits of justice, with a strong sense of right and wrong. We believed, according to the bible that it was wrong to segregate people and to treat one group of people better than another,” she added.

The elders, Ladner explained further, instill a gift of righteousness and bravery for become the generation to change the world for good.

An eminent sociologist, Ladner was a pioneer in the study of the intersectionality of race, gender and class. Her book, Tomorrow’s Tomorrow: The Black Woman was the first book published in African American Women’s Studies and is now an American classic.

In addition to hearing the civil rights activist speech, here are additional community events occurring for the King Holiday celebration.

33nd Annual Free Community Dinner
— Jan. 17 @ Gordon Commons

Kick-off the King Holiday weekend with fellowship and food at Gordon Commons, 770 W. Dayton Street in downtown Madison. The annual MLK Free Community Dinner will be held from 4:30-7 p.m. More than 500 community members are expected to enjoy a wonderful meal with friends, old and new, in King’s spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood. This free event and sponsored by the King Coalition. 

MLK Community Choir
— Jan. 18 @ Mt. Zion Baptist Church

The Choir will perform at City-County observance. Rehearsals are held 7 p.m. on Jan. 14 and 11 a.m. on Jan. 18 at Mt. Zion Baptist Church, 2019 Fisher St.

I Have A Dream Scholarship Ball
 ̶  Jan. 18 @ Monona Terrace

The annual Women in Focus Inc. “I Have a Dream” Scholarship Banquet and Ball is a celebration in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and is dedicated to encouraging students of color to succeed in education. Proceeds support the Women In Focus, Inc. Scholarship and Endowment Funds. 

The Ball will take place from 6 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Saturday at Monona Terrace, 1 John Nolen Drive. For more information, go to or email

Outstanding Young Person Breakfast
— Jan. 19 @ Edgewood High School

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Youth Recognition Breakfast celebrates students’ academic achievement, extracurricular involvement, and service to their community. The highlight of the Breakfast is the presentation of Outstanding Young Person Awards to nearly 200 middle and high school students of color in Dane County for their academic achievement, extracurricular involvement, and service to the community. Martin Luther King Scholarships are presented to exceptional high school seniors.

The Breakfast is open to the public and is one of the oldest and most well attended family observations of the King Holiday in Wisconsin. Often selling out, over 800 people attend the Breakfast annually.

The event starts at 7:30 a.m. on Sunday at Edgewood High School, 2219 Monroe St. Tickets are $10 per person. 

Youth Call to Action
— Jan. 20 @ Madison Central Library

Students from around Dane County will gather at the Madison Central Library on Monday for a “Youth Call to Action,” an event organized by the King Coalition to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Students with school groups and community centers will spend part of their day off learning about the civil rights movement. Workshops are held to help students make connections between music from the civil rights era to modern rap and hip-hop. Organizers said the event is designed to inspire younger people to continue King’s legacy.

The State of Wisconsin Commemorates
— Jan. 20 @ State Capitol Rotunda

The 40th Annual “Tribute & Ceremony” honoring Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. begins noon on Monday inside the State Capitol Rotunda. The ceremony is free and open to the public. The event will be broadcasted live on the Wisconsin Channel, online at and on the radio on WPR’s Ideas Network. The one-hour highlights broadcast will air on the main channel at 9 p.m.

The City-County Observance
— Jan. 20 @ Overture Center’s Capitol Theater

The City-County Observance will take place from 6-7:30 p.m. at the Overture Center for the Arts in downtown Madison. This year’s observance continues the popular tradition of kicking-off with a “Freedom Songs Sing-in” from 5-5:30 p.m. in the Rotunda of the Overture Center. The City-County Observance will then take place beginning at 6 p.m. in the Overture Center’s Capitol Theater. The Observance will also feature presentation of the Madison-Dane County Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Award.