From the archives: MLK receives honorary degree

Written by News

Grace Dean looks through the archives to trace the more memorable moments of Newcastle’s history.


1999 – Farewell fishies

The Courier stunned readers with the shocking headline: “Agric boozers ate my goldfish”. Students reportedly drowned their fishy companions in beer before downing the drinks at an initiation event, which echoed similar 1999 goldfish swallowing activities by fellow Agrics at Glasgow University.


1992 – shellfish safety rules

Fashion was being called into question as students debated whether shell suits should be banned in the Students’ Union because of safety reasons. A self-proclaimed “very concerned rugby player” wrote in to the Courier and proposed that those entering the Union “could be handed a bucket of water which they could carry around with them. This ensures that if their shell suits are accidentally set on fire by a stray cigarette end or petrol bomb, they could immediately douse themselves with the water (in their handy buckets), thus keeping a maximum safety standard in the Union.

In a vox pop feature, Newcastle students were asked whether the Royal Family is a “final bastion of Britishness or an expensive waste of time”. Queen Victoria told the Courier that she was “not amused”, while an excited student said: “I desperately fancy Prince Charles’ ears!” An aggravated student said “the corgis should be put down nastily and slowly”, while an Accountancy student offered a much more financially sound approach approach, suggesting that “we should sell them to the Americans or rent them on short-term lease”. Another kindly referred to the Royal Family as “a pile of shit”.


1975 – President in hall brawl

The Courier reported on a “hall brawl” which involved a fist fight between the President of the Students’ Union and a fourth year Dentistry student during a formal dinner in Eustace Percy. The President stated: “I was subjected to an unprovoked, vicious, premeditated assault occasioning permanent damage to the back of my lower front teeth” and a black eye. Retaliating against this, the Dental student argued: “It is fairly impossible to break his teeth at the back anyway; they break at the corners. It was probably just a piece of tartar.” Another student reasoned that this violence was caused by the President being a “complete pain in the arse”.


1967 – MLK receives degree

Students of Newcastle enthusiastically supported the arrival of Martin Luther King to receive an honorary Doctorate of Civil Law from the University in a ceremony in King’s Hall described by the Courier as “colourful and majestic”. In his acceptance speech, King addressed the “three urgent and grave problems” faced by the world: racism, poverty and war. The ceremony followed an “informal chat over coffee” with students, where “King had displayed other facets of his amazing character”, including “a lively, sometimes even jovial temperament”. Newcastle was the only UK university to grant King an honorary degree during his lifetime, and his acceptance speech was his last outside the US before his assassination.

Fast forward 50 years later, and the University chose to commemorate the anniversary of the occasion by unveiling a two-metre bronze statue of King in King’s Quad. The statue, designed by sculptor Nigel Boonham, was unveiled by American Ambassador Andrew Young, who himself had accompanied King on his visit to Newcastle in 1967. Discussing the statue, Young said, “it probably looks more like him than any of the other statues I’ve seen – and I’ve seen a lot”.

The unveiling of the statue marked the University’s commitment to the city’s year-long Freedom City programme, culminating that same day with the awarding of honorary degrees to four prominent civil rights advocates. These were the aforementioned Ambassador Andrew Young, who played a crucial role in drawing up equal rights legislation in the US in the 1960s, Archibald Sibeko, trade union and political leader who fought against the South African apartheid, author Malorie Blackham MBE whose works address the effects of racial prejudice, and Tom Caulker, advocate of multiculturalism in Tyneside.

Last modified: 6th November 2019

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