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Martin Luther King’s visit to Newcastle

Martin Luther King’s visit to Newcastle

This photograph depicts Martin Luther King's Degree Procession with C.B. Nicholson, 1967. King visited the university to receive an Honorary Doctorate of Civil Law. Newcastle University would be the only British institution to award King an Honorary Degree and the only place in Britain that King visited outside of London.

 

 

The photograph of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is part of several items in the University Archive which document King’s visit to Newcastle. The visit was organised as part of a strategy to use honorary degrees to publicise the University’s mission and values to the general public.  

King had been nominated by Lord Wynne-Jones, a Labour Party peer and Professor of Chemistry at Newcastle University. 

Prior to the visit, there was some concern that King would not be able to make it. He was jailed in Alabama on 30 October 1967 – two weeks before the congregation was scheduled. However, King did arrive in Newcastle on the morning of 13 November 1967. He spent the morning at the Vice Chancellor’s apartment, before heading to King’s Hall in the Armstrong Building for the ceremony.  

After the formalities of the Degree Ceremony, King gave a passionate, unscripted speech, during which he connected the African American freedom struggle to developments in contemporary British race relations. A portion of this speech, along with a clip of the academic procession, is available to view online.  

Just five months after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s visit to Newcastle, on the 4 April 1968, King was shot dead in Memphis. Newcastle University held a Memorial Service, during which the Vice Chancellor gave a particularly moving eulogy. The university continued to commemorate King through a series of Martin Luther King Memorial Lectures, which have been held sporadically since 1972. In 2017, to mark the 50th Anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s visit to Newcastle, a statue of Dr. King was unveiled at Newcastle University. 

Reference: NUA/052589/14, Photograph of Martin Luther King Degree Procession with C.B. Nicholson (1967),  University Archives, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.

Potential research ideas

Newcastle University was the only British institution to award King an Honorary Degree during his lifetime. You could use this as a starting point to ask to what extent the UK British Black Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s was influenced by the Civil Rights movement in America. You could also look into the role Universities and student bodies played in the movement.

What role did student agitators play? What was the reaction to King receiving his honorary degree in Newcastle? What was the black British experience at the time?

You might want to investigate the communities that played a part in the movement, key milestones in the UK Civil Rights Movements as well as the broader cultural context.

It may also be interesting to compare the language used by and about organisations involved in the Civil Right Movement at the time. How do these differ from how we talk about the movement now?

Selected background reading

Background reading for the civil rights movement in the UK and representation:

Tuck, S., 2013. Malcolm X's Visit to Oxford University: U.S. Civil Rights, Black Britain, and the Special Relationship on Race. The American Historical Review, Vol 118, No.1 [online] Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/23425460 (Accessed 15 May 2020)

Malik, S., 2002. Representing black Britain a history of black and Asian images on British television. London: SAGE.

Similar reading for the civil rights movement in the US might include:

Torres, S., 2003. Black, white, and in color: television and black civil rights, Woodstock: Princeton University Press.

For further reading into the political context of UK Universities:

Bailey, M. and Freedman D., (2011) The Assault on Universities: A Manifesto for Resistance. Pluto Press [online]. Available at: www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt183p22h (Accessed 20 Apr 2020)

What can I find here in Special Collections?

Specific to King’s Honorary Degree and visit to Newcastle you can find press coverage and photographs of the ceremony, as well as correspondence relating to his nomination for the Honorary Doctorate in the Newcastle University Archives which includes:

  • Wynne-Jones, 1966, letter to E.M. Bettenson from [Lord] Wynne Jones on 2 October 1966 recommending Martin Luther King for an Honorary Degree [manuscript] NUA/00-7621/4/30, Newcastle University Archives. Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.
  • King, M.L., 1967. Martin Luther King’s telegram to E.M. Bettenson on 23 February 1967 accepting the degree [manuscript] NUA/00-7621/1/36, Newcastle University Archives. Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.

For research into Black Civil Rights in Britain, it may be useful to look through student publications like Newcastle’s Courier Archive which is digitised:

What can I find elsewhere?

For research into the Black Civil Rights Movement the Black Cultural Archive holds comprehensive collections that document the history and cultural heritage of Black Britain -

The George Padmore Institute, connected to New Beacon Books the first black publisher and bookshop in Britain, holds materials relating to the black community of Caribbean, African and Asian descent in Britain and continental Europe.

For opinion and developments of the Black Civil Rights Movement online newspapers may provide a useful resource.

The National Archive offers Black British History information page which provides a range of relevant guides into research and resources.

If your research focuses of the reception and development of the Black Civil Rights Movements in British Universities, it may be useful to search student newspapers in other University Special Collections. Interesting places to start might be:

For wider research into slavery, abolition and social justice in the Atlantic World you might be interested in the Slavery, Abolition and Social Justice database.

Interested in King's visit to Newcastle?

A digital exhibition that covers the details of King’s visit is also available to view online. This digital resource is based on an exhibition co-curated with Professor Brian Ward and with support from Freedom City 2017, a programme which brought together international artists, musicians, film-makers, academics and community groups to inspire a new generation to contribute towards tackling the issues that Dr King spoke of in his acceptance speech.