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Freedom on the Tyne

A city remembers Martin Luther King

Published on: 30 October 2017

Newcastle University was one of the locations used to tell stories related the global struggle for civil rights this weekend.

Unique city-wide performance

Starting at different locations across the city, stories from Selma, USA, 1965; Sharpeville, South Africa, 1960; Amritsar, India, 1919; and St Peter’s Field, Manchester, 1819 were depicted in Freedom on the Tyne - a unique city-wide performance.

Hundreds of people turned up to watch ‘The Turning of Martin Luther King’ at the Boilerhouse on the University’s main campus. This told the story of the march to Selma and the difficult choices facing Dr King, his colleagues and a group of young civil rights activists.

Immediately before this, the crowd had watched an outdoor performance of “My Knowledge Increase, My Memories Reflect” by Martin Hylton and Gateway Studios.

Building throughout the day, each of the stories spilled out onto the streets of Newcastle city centre, where they were joined by a march in celebration of the Jarrow March. Hundreds of local actors, dancers, singers, musicians and performers from communities from across Tyneside teamed up with professional artists to bring Freedom on the Tyne to life.

As darkness fell, thousands gathered on the Bridge, where Solomon Israel, playing Dr King, delivered the same speech the civil rights leader gave when he came to Newcastle University in 1967 to accept an honorary degree. 

A stunning light show, breath-taking aerial artists, huge puppets and a spectacular ticker-tape explosion then brought Freedom on the Tyne to a close. 

Tyne Bridge Selma arches Boilerhouse Monument Suffragettes Tyne bridge 2

Spectacular finale

As darkness fell, thousands gathered on the Tyne Bridge for the epic finale of Freedom on the Tyne.

The struggle for civil rights

'The Turning of Martin Luther King' depicted events linked to the march to Selma in 1965, led by Dr King

Civil rights debate

Civil rights activists debate the best course of action as part of 'The Turning of Martin Luther King' story

A city comes together

Each of the Freedom on the Tyne stories spilled out onto the streets of Newcastle city centre.

Proud tradition of civil rights protest

A group representing the Suffragettes joined the Jarrow Marchers, miners, and modern day protests for equality and social justice.

Unique performance

Freedom on the Tyne brought together communities and professional artists to tell stories related the global struggle for civil rights

Freedom City 2017

The event was one of the highlights of Freedom City 2017 – the year-long, city-wide programme commemorating the 50th anniversary of Dr King visit to Newcastle University.

The culmination of this will take place on 13 November, when a brand new bronze statue of Dr King will be unveiled on campus. This will be followed by a special honorary degree ceremony, where four notable figures who have made a significant contribution to society through their work to promote equality and social justice will be honoured.

On 11 November, some of the best poets from both sides of the Atlantic will come to Newcastle University to read a selection of work featured in a new poetry anthology The Mighty Stream. The collection brings together a selection of poems addressing the challenges of racism, poverty and war that Dr King highlighted in the impromptu speech he made when he accepted his honorary degree.

Running until 1 December at the GNM: Hancock is FREEDOM - a contemporary film installation across four screens inspired by Dr King’s 1967 speech and directed by Dr Ian McDonald. This is taking place alongside Not as it is written: Black Pittsburgh in voice and image – an exhibition of photos from the world-class Teenie Harris Archive, accompanied by spoken recollections of Civil Rights era Pittsburgh that have been collected and curated by Dr Ben Houston.

More Freedom City 2017 events will run throughout November and into 2018. To see the full programme, visit


Images by North News & Pictures and Richard Kenworthy, courtesy of Newcastle Gateshead Initiative. 


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