Marking 50 years since the visit of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. to Newcastle upon Tyne, Freedom City 2017 celebrated the honorary degree awarded to him by Newcastle University in 1967.
Organised by the University, Northern Roots, and the NewcastleGateshead Initiative, the programme featured public lectures, many of which have been held at the University, and various music and theatrical performances as part of the programme, starting on 16th January, known as Martin Luther King Day in the US.
On the 13th November 1967, Newcastle University gave Dr Martin Luther King an honorary degree in recognition of his lifelong devotion to civil rights, and was the only university in the UK to do so during his lifetime. With his acceptance speech featuring the themes of war, poverty and racism, these have also been key issues brought forth in the various events forming the Freedom City initiative.
A great drama took place thoughout Newcastle and Gateshead on 29th October 2017, inspired by Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. and stories of civil rights struggles around the world. The performance was directed by acclaimed theatre director Tim Supple, scripted by BAFTA-award winning playwright Roy Williams and adapted by Katie Ebner-Landy.
Freedom City 2017 culminated in another historic event at Newcastle University on the 50th anniversary of Dr King’s visit, when a statue was unveiled in his honour and honorary degrees awarded to four notable civil rights advocates. The statue, at two metres tall, was sculpted by renowned artist Nigel Boonham, and unveiled Ambassador Andrew Young, a close friend and colleague of Dr King’s and who accompanied him to Newcastle in 1967.
The four honorary degrees were awarded to Ambassador Andrew Young, anti-apartheid activist and political leader Archibald Sibeko, Children’s author Malorie Blackman OBE, and Tyneside anti-racism campaigner, Tom Caulker.
Vice-Chancellor Professor Chris Day, said: “The award of these honorary degrees reflect the significant contribution each of our honorands has made to society through their work to promote equality and social justice. We are proud to welcome them to Newcastle University on the day we mark such an important milestone.
“The ‘urgent and great’ problems of war, poverty and racism that Dr King spoke about are as relevant today as they were in 1967. Recognising the achievements of those who we’re honouring today provides an opportunity for reflection on these themes and for us all to re-commit to the aims and values Dr King stood for.”