Freedom City 2017

On 13th November 1967, Newcastle University awarded Dr Martin Luther King an honorary degree, the only UK university to do so in his lifetime. On accepting this award, Dr King made what was to be his final public speech outside of the US before his assassination in April 1968. In a moving address, he called for us to join him in the ongoing struggle against war, poverty and racism.

Freedom City 2017 brings together international artists, musicians, filmmakers, academics and community groups to inspire a new generation to contribute towards tackling the issues that Dr King spoke of in his acceptance speech.

Freedom City 2017 is a city-wide programme commemorating the 50th anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King being awarded an honorary degree by Newcastle University.

Dr Martin Luther King was one of the world’s greatest civil rights leaders, using the power of words and acts of non-violent protest to achieve seemingly impossible goals. His campaigns against racial inequality, poverty and war are renowned and his accomplishments studied worldwide.

His ‘I have a dream’ speech is known around the world. But few people are aware of another powerful speech he gave right here in Newcastle.

The occasion was made all the more remarkable by the fact that Dr King took time to visit the University to receive the award. Unusually, Dr King was invited to give an impromptu acceptance speech and held the audience spellbound as he spoke of his struggle for racial justice and the “three urgent and indeed great problems that we face not only in the United States of America but all over the world today. That is the problem of racism, the problem of poverty and the problem of war.”

The aims of Freedom City 2017 are:

To bring Dr King’s legacy to life for a new generation to equip them with knowledge and skills and empower them to contribute towards tackling the great problems of war, poverty and racism.

To enable artists to create internationally significant work inspired by the themes of Dr King’s acceptance speech and galvanise the region’s cultural venues and landmark sites as hosts to a global audience.

To stimulate academic research and debate that will likewise contribute towards finding solutions to the challenges posed by war, poverty and racism.

Freedom City 2017 is a partnership between Newcastle University, Northern Roots and NewcastleGateshead Initiative. The vision for Freedom City 2017 was devised by Adam and Patrick Collerton and the city wide programme has been curated with partners across the city.

The Martin Luther King Legacy Steering Group is responsible for informing and influencing the Freedom City 2017 programme. It includes:

Newcastle University
Northern Roots
Northumbria University
Newcastle City Council
NewcastleGateshead Initiative
Arts Council England
NE1 Limited
Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums
Chi Onwurah MP
Newcastle Council for Voluntary Service
Eclipse Theatre
Representatives of faith groups and other community organisations

Not as it is written: Black Pittsburgh in voice and image


To honour a Great and Good Man

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 includes events and research and teaching projects led by Newcastle University, including:
Not as it is written: Black Pittsburgh in voice and image

An exhibition at the Great North Museum: Hancock depicting 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.

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 will use 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 will be installed 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 includes 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 for Autumn 2017 will include Baroness Floella Benjamin OBE, working peer, children’s campaigner, author and actress.
50th Anniversary event

An honorary degree ceremony will take place on 13 November 2017 to commemorate Dr King’s visit to Newcastle University. Involving a leading advocate for civil rights, the event will take place in the King’s Hall at Newcastle University.
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.
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.