An honorary degree was the highest mark of distinction the University could confer and came at a time when Dr King was seen as an increasingly controversial figure, particularly in relation to his stance on the Vietnam War and capitalism.
Newcastle University, and indeed the city of Newcastle upon Tyne, has a strong history of civic engagement and support for civil rights and social justice. The award of Dr King’s honorary degree in recognition of his significant contribution towards equality and fairness for all is just one example of this.
Freedom City 2017 included events and research and teaching projects led by Newcastle University, such as:
FREEDOM created by Dr Ian McDonald and Dr Geetha Jayaraman celebrates the political energy of Dr Martin Luther King Jr and underscores the ‘fierce urgency of now’. Dr King’s impromptu acceptance speech while receiving an honorary doctorate at Newcastle University in 1967 is set within an immersive visual and visceral experience of contemporary protests from both sides of the Atlantic juxtaposed with rarely and some unseen archive footage of Enoch Powell’s controversial visit to Newcastle.
Not as it is written: Black Pittsburgh in voice and image
An exhibition at the Great North Museum: Hancock which depicted elements of race relations and civil rights struggle in Pittsburgh, USA, by juxtaposing oral testimonies from black Pittsburghers in conjunction with historic photos from the world-class Charles ‘Teenie’ Harris archive held by the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh. A digital version of the exhibition is available as a free download iOS and Android.
Insights public lectures
The University’s hugely popular INSIGHTS public lectures programme for 2017 included several talks linked to the topics of war, poverty and racism.
To honour a great and good man
Drawing on material from the archives of Newcastle University’s Special Collections, this exhibition told visitors the story of Dr King’s visit to Newcastle.
It allowed visitors to take a look at what led to his nomination for an honorary degree, the communications and preparations building up to the visit and what happened on the day itself, as well as the aftermath and legacy of Dr King’s visit.
Some of the correspondence included in the exhibition illustrates the anxiety that was felt when, on 30 October 1967, Dr King was sent to jail in Alabama and it became uncertain whether he would be able to come to Newcastle.
But, on 1 November, his office in Atlanta sent a telegram to University staff confirming that he would be able to visit, prompting a whirlwind of frenetic preparations.
Among the documents in the exhibition, a briefing was included which was sent to University staff setting out the security arrangements for the day. This document explained that Mrs Kell, an administrator at the University would be in the King’s Hall, where the honorary degree ceremony was to take place, to ‘keep an eye open for the undesirable characters with toilet rolls and/or soft fruit’.
50th Anniversary event
50 years to the day since Dr King visited Newcastle University, a special honorary degree ceremony was held to honour 4 individuals who have made a significant contribution to tackling the challenges of war, poverty and racism.
Ambassador Andrew Young, Honorary Doctor of Civil Law (DCL)
Archibald Archie Sibeko, Honorary Doctor of Civil Law (DCL)
Malorie Blackman OBE, Honorary Doctor of Letters (DLitt)
Thomas Caulker, Honorary Doctor of Civil Law (DCL)
Newcastle Centre for Literary Arts – Poetry Anthology
Educational Resources Pack
Academics at Newcastle University and Northumbria University have worked with local teachers to create a special resources pack to help their students explore the legacy of Dr King and think about the issues of racism, poverty and war in today’s society.
Aimed at students aged 7-16, this has been developed as part of Freedom City 2017, to help teachers and students explore the legacy of Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement. The materials include lesson plans, hand-outs, worksheets, music recordings and presentation slides covering a wide range of subjects.
Freedom City 2017 Comic
Drawing on the expertise of academics at Newcastle and Northumbria universities and international artists, the Freedom City Comics Anthology presents snapshots of the history of civil rights and politics on Tyneside with each chapter focusing on a different era.
The Austerity Playbook
The Austerity Playbook came to Newcastle Theatre, Northern Stage for one night only, 1 November 2017 and discussed: How Poverty was challenged in a Freedom City.
Based on ground breaking research by Professor Laurence Ferry (Durham University) and Professor Ileana Stecollini (Newcastle University) into how austerity unfolded in Newcastle and across the world, Andre Pink (Dende Collective) in association with Mark O’Thomas and Andrea Vicari Present a new work in progress jazz musical ‘The Austerity Playbook’.
Watch the play and see the interviews with researchers, writers and actors. This event was also discussed at a workshop in Newcastle University London on 22 November 2017, which brought together academics, policy makers, the accounting profession, artists and public managers and aimed to discuss and contrast national and international experiences by looking at how municipalities have faced recent crises and austerity.
Inspirational Women of the Law – 22 March 2017
An Inspirational Women of the Law 2017 event helped to celebrate the achievements of iconic and influential women who have a strong connection to the law – including legal practitioners and campaigners. This event was primarily for students (Newcastle and local sixth formers).
There was a particular focus celebrating black, Asian and minority ethnic women in law, coinciding with both the launch of a Black Student Law Society by students at Newcastle Law School, and the 50th Anniversary of the conferral of an honorary degree by the University on Dr Martin Luther King. The event forms part of the Freedom City celebrations taking place across Newcastle to commemorate Dr King’s honorary degree.
Research by Professor Peter Hopkins and Dr Robin Finlay at Newcastle University, and colleagues at St Andrews University, showed how everyday experiences of Islamophobia and racism make young Muslims anxious about participating in public life because they don’t want to appear to be overly-politicised. This work was presented to the Scottish Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland and MSPs.
Newcastle University students past and present are also contributing to Freedom City 2017
Alumni memories project
Newcastle University graduates who were present at Dr King’s honorary degree ceremony in 1967 have shared their memories of that momentous day in a series of short films.
Graduates from this time have also shared their memories through written retrospectives.
Download Newcastle University Alumni Written Reflections on Dr King’s Visit (PDF)
Gifts from Alumni
Newcastle University would like to thank alumna, Catherine Young, BA Hons English Language 1982, for her gift of a painting of Dr Martin Luther King Jr as well as Keith Gregson, BA Modern & Medieval History, 1970 for his song, When the King Came to Toon.
Martin Luther Who? Conference – 9th Annual International Development Conference 2017
The Martin Luther Who Conference was designed to create a forum to address contemporary issues regarding civil rights and take a grassroots look at the issues raised in Dr King’s speech in the King’s Hall 50 years ago.
The conference covered a range of angles examining civil rights, from the legacy of King himself to the intricacies of identity, and a first-hand experience of the Civil Rights Movement in the mid-1960s. The event was organised by the International Development Society, in conjunction with Newcastle University Students’ Union, and featured talks and workshops from prominent figures including:
Where do we go from here?
A multimedia exhibition on the theme of social justice, created by and featuring the work of students from across the School and held on campus. The exhibition built on the work of a student-led discussion group and a cross-school module on social justice in the arts.
A programme of events ran alongside the exhibition, providing opportunities to discuss the theme of social justice and the challenges Dr Martin Luther King raised in his speech at Newcastle University in 1967:
Students from Newcastle University’s School of Arts and Culture curated a multimedia exhibition on the theme of social justice, responding to the themes of Dr King’s Speech. The exhibition featured work created by students and recent graduates from the following disciplines: BA Fine Art and MA Art Museum and Gallery Studies courses.
In addition the students gained valuable curatorial experience as they managed their own exhibition, budget and publicity plans.
SOLE Biggest Ever Question – Martin Luther King Day 2017
On Monday 16th January, children in schools, community centres and other organisations were invited to answer a special Big Question posed by Professor Sugata Mitra to commemorate Martin Luther King Day, as part of Freedom City 2017.
Along with people all over the world, students had the opportunity to engage with Dr King’s ideas and form their own response to the Big Question – exploring the themes of connectivity and King’s legacy within an increasingly global society. Participants were able to do this via a self-organised learning environment (SOLE) led by Newcastle University’s School in the Cloud.
Find out more about Professor Mitra’s work and the School in the Cloud, in this special publication dedicated to the project.