Dr King at Newcastle University

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:

An image of Dr King projected onto the Newcastle University Students’ Union building
Image Credit: © Derek Russell


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.

Left to right: Panel from FREEDOM Film
Image credit: © Dr Ian McDonald, Dr Geetha Jayaraman

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.

Image credit: © Charles "Teenie" Harris American, 1908–1998 Large group of protesters Downtown with signs reading "Fight poverty, not Hanoi," "SAV-CAP in the Hill," and "LBJ where's your support?" for demonstration against curtailment of anti-poverty program, January 1967 black and white: Kodak Safety Film H: 4 in. x W: 5 in. (10.20 x 12.70 cm) Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh: Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.6802 © Carnegie Museum of Art, Charles “Teenie” Harris Archive

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.

Reverend Jeffrey Brown, the architect of the “Boston miracle” that lowered the rate of youth crime in Boston, covered the lessons he learned working with gangs in the city.

This was followed by a conversation between Dame Vera Baird QC, Police and Crime Commissioner for Northumbria and Sara Bryson, Citizens UK, on “Citizenship and equality.

Professor Tony Badger discussed the legacy of Dr King in 2017 and the extent to which the civil rights movement has found it difficult to replicate the success that Dr King achieved in the 1960s.

The Insights programme also included a talk by Baroness Floella Benjamin OBE, working peer, children’s campaigner, author and actress.

Image credit: © Reverend Jeffrey Brown

New public art

A bronze sculpture of Dr King was installed and unveiled on the Newcastle University campus and unveiled in November 2017. Created by distinguished artist Nigel Boonham, the statue will provide a lasting memorial to Dr King.

Left to right: Ambassador Andrew Young, President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Chris Day and artist Nigel Boonham with sculpture of Dr Martin Luther King Jr
Image credit: © Newcastle University

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’.

Newcastle University Student Newspaper the Courier Article covering Dr King’s Visit
Image Credit: © Newcastle University Special

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)


Left to right: Ambassador Andrew Young, Archibald Archie Sibeko, Malorie Blackman OBE and Tom Caulker

Newcastle Centre for Literary Arts – Poetry Anthology

Award-winning poets Jackie Kay and Carolyn Forché – both visiting professors at Newcastle University – edited a new anthology of poems by some of the finest poets writing in the UK and US today. This was launched at the Mighty Stream event.

You can purchase the anthology from Blood Axe Books.

Image of ‘Mighty Stream’ Anthology
Image credit: © Blood Axe Books

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.

Image: Martin Luther King Peace Committee logo

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.

Extract from the Tyneside Radicals story by Brick, Professor Matthew Grenby and Lydia Wysocki Image credit: © Applied Comics

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.

Image: Pragna Patel, founding member of Southall Black Sisters.

Islamophobia research

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.

Image: Peter Hopkins

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.

Image credit: © Catherine Young, BA Hons English Language 1982

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:

Chi Onwurah MP, Dr Kehinde Andrews, Prof. David Bailin, Dr Megan Armstrong, Muzoon al-Mellehan (Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF) and Dr Silvia Pasquetti.

Dr Kehinde Andrews at Martin Luther Who Conference Image credit: © Chris Bishop

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.

Still taken from 'Lorraine' by Jez Coram
Image credit: © Jez Coram 2017

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.