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On 13 November, we marked the 50th anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King’s visit to the University to receive an Honorary Degree with two moving and inspirational events. Professor Richard Davies, Pro-Vice-Chancellor Engagement and Internationalisation, shares the details.

Fifty years to the day, a special ceremony took place in the University’s King’s Hall to recognise four notable figures who have made a contribution to society locally and internationally through their work to promote equality, diversity and civil rights: Malorie Blackman OBE, British writer and former Children’s Laureate; Tom Caulker, promoter of multiculturalism and equality; Archibald Sibeko, former anti-apartheid activist and political leader; and Ambassador Andrew Jackson Young Jr, American politician, diplomat and activist.

Earlier in the day, Andrew Young, who travelled with Dr King to Newcastle in 1967, unveiled a stunning bronze statue of his old friend and colleague. This occupies a commanding position in the newly-created King’s Quadrangle, next to the King’s Hall, and will become the focal point of a new procession route that all our students will take at the end of their graduation ceremony. Videos of both the unveiling and the honorary degree ceremony are available to watch on the University’s website. 

Monday’s events were the culmination of a year-long programme of activities under the banner of Freedom City 2017, which aims to inspire all of us to re-commit to the aims and values Dr King stood for. Many of our staff and students have been involved in organising various Freedom City 2017 events. For example, Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts organised a really well-attended event on Saturday 11 November to launch a new anthology of poems, ‘The Mighty Stream’, which takes its title from Dr King’s speech and is a fantastic collection from some of the best poets in the UK and US.  

Dr Ian McDonald’s powerful film installation ‘Freedom’ and Dr Ben Houston’s thought-provoking exhibition depicting the history of civil rights in Pittsburgh, US will both continue to run until the end of this month at the GNM: Hancock and I urge anyone who’s not yet seen them to go.   

Another highlight of Freedom City 2017 was the inspirational and epic ‘Freedom on the Tyne’ event last month, an outdoor spectacular that culminated in more than 3,000 people gathering on the Tyne Bridge to mark civil rights struggles across the globe.

“The ‘urgent and great’ problems of racism, poverty and war that Dr King spoke about during his acceptance speech are as relevant today as they were in 1967. The 50thanniversary of his visit provides an opportunity for reflection on these themes and for us all to re-commit to the aims and values Dr King stood for. We will aim to keep the legacy alive through our work on equality, diversity and inclusion which - as Professor Chris Day flagged up in the recent issue of VCconnect - will be a key feature of our emerging strategy.

Professor Richard Davies

Pro-Vice-Chancellor Engagement and Internationalisation



published on: 15th November 2017


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