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:

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 


FREEDOM! is a new work by Newcastle University’s scholar-filmmakers Ian McDonald and Geetha Jayaraman celebrating the political energy of Martin Luther King Jr.

To honour a great and good man

This exhibition used material from the University’s Special Collections archives to tell the story of Dr King’s visit to Newcastle.

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.

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.  In his talk on 21 February 2017 Reverend Jeffrey Brown, a key player in 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.

In June, 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.

50th Anniversary event

An honorary degree ceremony took place on 13 November 2017 to commemorate Dr King’s visit to Newcastle University. The event took place in the King’s Hall at Newcastle University and four notable civil rights advocates were recognised.

Andrew Jackson Young Jr, American politician, diplomat and activist, was awarded with a Doctorate of Civil Law.

Archibald ‘Archie’ Sibeko, South African veteran anti-apartheid activist and political leader was awarded with a Doctorate of Civil Law.

Malorie Blackman OBE, Children's author was awarded with an Honorary Doctorate of Letters.

Tom Caulker, Tyneside anti-racism campaigner and promoter of multiculturalism and equality, also received an Honorary Doctorate of Civil Law.

Newcastle Centre for Literary Arts – Poetry Anthology

Award-winning poets Jackie Kay and Carolyn Forché – both visiting professors at Newcastle University – will edit a new anthology of poems by some of the finest poets writing in the UK and US today.

Teachers’ 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.

Freedom City comic

Drawing on the expertise of academics at Newcastle and Northumbria universities and international artists, this comics anthology will depict the people and stories associated with the civil rights history of the North East.

The Austerity Playbook

A work in progress performance of a new musical based on ground breaking research by Professors Laurence Ferry and Ileana Steccolini,  academics at Newcastle and Durham universities, this project highlights the challenges raised by austerity measures and the questions around the use and allocation of public resources.

Inspirational women of the law

This event, organised by Newcastle Law School, celebrated the achievements of iconic and influential black, Asian and minority ethnic women who have a strong connection to the law.

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.

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)

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. 

Student exhibition

Students from Newcastle University’s School of Arts and Culture will curate a brand new multimedia exhibition on the theme of social justice. The exhibition will feature work created by students and will build on the work of a student-led discussion group and new cross-school module on social justice in the arts.

9th annual International Development Conference 2017

Students of the International Development Society organised the Martin Luther Who? conference in February 2017. The event covered a range of angles examining civil rights, from the legacy of Dr King and included talks from prominent civil rights activists and academics.