Hours after civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) dismissed Sen. Bernie Sanders' involvement in the fight for racial equality, Virginia State University announced it will host the Democratic presidential candidate next week.
The historically black college in Chesterfield expects a sold out event Feb. 17, tentatively scheduled for 7 p.m. in the university's new multipurpose center.
Sanders is setting out to introduce himself to the African-American community, which traditionally holds strong ties to Bill and Hillary Clinton.
The effort will prove to be critical to Sanders' success in South Carolina, where an NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll has Clinton leading 74-17 percentage points among likely African American primary voters.
The Palmetto State holds its Democratic primary Feb. 27, with 59 total delegates at stake. Clinton currently has 45 delegates, Sanders has 36. A Democratic candidate needs 2,383 delegates to win the nomination.
The VSU announcement comes amid criticism of Sanders' involvement with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee while he studied at the University of Chicago in the 1960s.
Lewis, who served as leader of the SNCC, interrupted a reporter's question at a Clinton endorsement news conference Thursday, saying he never met Sanders during the movement.
"Well, to be very frank, I'm going to cut you off, but I never saw him, I never met him," Lewis said.
"I'm a chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee for three years, from 1963 to 1966. I was involved in the sit-ins, the freedom rides, the March on Washington, the march from Selma to Montgomery, and directed their voter education project for six years. But I met Hillary Clinton. I met President Clinton."
In response to Lewis, Sanders' campaign spokesperson Michael Briggs told NBC News, "Bernie is a great admirer of Congressman Lewis."
Sanders was arrested for trying to desegregate school housing, and at 22-years-old, attended the March on Washington in 1963.