In Depth

Freedom City 2017: Newcastle honours a legend

The city prepares a year of cultural events to mark the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr being honoured at Newcastle University

There are few speeches as momentous, memorable and meaningful as Dr Martin Luther King Jr's "I Have a Dream". But the civil rights legend delivered another poignant and powerful address 50 years ago, when he was recognised with an honorary degree from Newcastle University.

It would be his final speech outside the US and came five months before his assassination in 1968. In it, he speaks of "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". His words serve as an important reminder of the challenges that continue to face society today.

King's legacy will be celebrated with a year-long cultural programme in the north-east, looking back at his landmark achievements as well as exploring how to learn from history to improve the present.

Professor Richard Davies, pro-vice-chancellor for engagement and internationalisation at Newcastle University, says: "Awarding an honorary degree was the highest honour that the University could bestow and came at a time when Dr King was an increasingly controversial figure. Indeed, Newcastle University was the only UK establishment to honour Dr King in this way during his lifetime and it remains one of the most important moments in our history.

"The 50th anniversary of his visit provides an opportunity for each of us to reflect on how we can contribute towards tackling the challenges of war, poverty and racism Dr King spoke of, and will enable a new generation to engage with his legacy."

The main event, on 13 November, is Freedom City on the Tyne, when hundreds of local actors, dancers, musicians and performers will take to the streets of Newcastle and Gateshead in an immersive performance paying tribute to those who have steered the way for civil rights. It will be led by acclaimed theatre director Tim Supple and award-winning writer Roy Williams.

Before then, a number of institutions will offer fresh insight into the multifaceted civil rights movement and its continuing impact. Starless Midnight, at the city's Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art from 20 October, brings together the responses of international artists on the subject, co-curated by artist Edgar Arceneaux and Baltic's chief curator Laurence Sillars. Also that month, the Great North Museum: Hancock hosts an inspiring exhibition detailing King's visit to the university, while Of Race, Beyond Race: African Americans in Pittsburgh Then and Now features oral histories and photographs created in partnership with the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh. 

There's also the chance to get more actively involved in a number of debates and talks. Inclusive discussion group Cafe Culture will host two casual and informal public talks as part of the programme; the first, on 6 February, will appraise England's relationship with human rights, while a second, on 20 March, questions the state of economic equality in both the UK and worldwide. Newcastle University itself will also host a series of public lectures, the first of which will be led by Reverend Jeffrey L Brown, president of the organisation Rebuilding Every Community around Peace.

freedomcity2017.com

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