Thousands unite as Tyne Bridge hosts epic civil rights performance

The Tyne Bridge was the setting for a spectacular performance at the weekend (29 October) celebrating the courage and sacrifice of those that have led the long march for civil rights.

Official figures released by event organisers show that 5,000 people gathered for the finale on the Tyne bridge with up to 3,000 more watching the four different stories unfold in the streets of Newcastle and Gateshead.

Held on Sunday 29 October as part of a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s visit to Newcastle, Freedom on the Tyne brought together international artists, performers and community groups from across NewcastleGateshead in a unique afternoon of theatre, music, dance and art.

Starting from various locations across the Newcastle and Gateshead, four stories of the struggle for civil rights from across the world were told in a unique performance. These stories built throughout the day and were joined by the Jarrow March before coming to an inspirational climax on the Tyne Bridge.

The event was one of the highlights of Freedom City 2017 – a year-long, city-wide programme commemorating the 50th anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. receiving an honorary degree from Newcastle University.

Freedom City 2017, which was awarded funding from Arts Council England’s Ambition for Excellence programme, is a partnership between Newcastle University, Northern Roots and NewcastleGateshead Initiative.

The performance was directed by acclaimed theatre director Tim Supple, scripted by BAFTA-award winning playwright Roy Williams and adapted by Katie Ebner-Landy.

Tim Supple, director of Freedom on the Tyne, said: “I can’t think of any other city in the world that would allow such a performance to take place on the streets of the city centre, this is a credit to the event organisers and everyone in Newcastle and Gateshead.

“The iconic Tyne Bridge was a thrilling setting for the climax of this unique city-wide performance commemorating Martin Luther King and those who risked their lives to gain our freedoms. The people of NewcastleGateshead came together as one and were the stars of the performance. It was a moving finale, standing together on the Tyne Bridge in a moment of reflection and solidarity for civil rights – it sends out a powerful and striking message to the world.”

On 13 November 1967, Newcastle University gave Dr Martin Luther King an honorary degree – the only UK university to do so during his lifetime. Remarkably, Dr King took time to visit Newcastle to receive the award. He then gave an impromptu acceptance speech – his last public address outside of the US before his assassination barely six months later.

Dr King spoke of the challenge in overcoming the three ‘urgent and great problems’ of racism, poverty and war. Freedom City 2017 aims to keep Dr King’s legacy alive by inspiring a new generation to contribute towards tackling these issues.

Vikki Leaney, senior festival and events manager at NewcastleGateshead Initiative, added: “The people of Newcastle and Gateshead came out in their thousands to commemorate these people’s global struggle for civil rights. Freedom on the Tyne was a spectacular performance and the climax on the Tyne Bridge was a once-in-a-lifetime event that will stick in the minds of those that were there for years to come.”

Hundreds of local actors, dancers, singers, musicians and performers from a range of communities from across Newcastle and Gateshead were involved in the performance.

Starting from different locations throughout the city before coming together for its conclusion, the stories told on Freedom on the Tyne were:

  • The Ballad of Peterloo from St Peter’s Field, Manchester, 1819
  • The Haunting of General Dyer from Amritsar, India, 1919
  • A White Man’s Burden from Sharpeville, South Africa,1960
  • The Turning of Martin Luther King from Selma, USA, 1965.

Freedom City 2017 – the city-wide, cultural programme celebrating the achievements of the civil rights movement and its founder, Dr King – continues with events throughout Newcastle and Gateshead. For more information visit