Conference celebrates 50 years for M.L.King’s honorary degree

Martin Luther King.
Image: Flickr, David Erickson.Martin Luther King. Image: Flickr, David Erickson.

Speakers from across the country gathered in King’s Hall on February 18 to celebrate the 50th anniversary since Dr Martin Luther King was awarded an honorary degree from Newcastle University. Organised by the International Development Society at Newcastle University (IDS), “Martin Luther Who? IDS Conference 2017” was a part of Newcastle’s Freedom City 2017 celebrations.

The conference was opened by Chi Onwurah, MP for Newcastle Central and patron of Freedom City 2017, and featured guest speakers, Dr Kehinde Andrews from Birmingham City University, Prof David Bailin from University of Sussex, Muzoon al-Mellehan, and Dr Megan Armstrong and Dr Silvia Pasquetti from Newcastle University.

The event was hosted by Jack Taylor, NUSU President, and Liberty Blythe, president of the International Development Society, and also featured workshops run by Safiya Robinson, Racial Equality Officer.

IDS had been organising their annual conference since September, Liberty Blythe told The Courier. She said:

This year, David Moffat, who is one our alumni, got in touch with us about the Freedom City and what happening, and so we decided that IDS would team up with the Students’ Union to bring it together.

“We thought that it was really important to address racial issues and to put them on a stage so people can address them.

“I don’t think we always do, especially when you are at a university and caught up in your exams, modules or deadlines, so it is really nice to say look, these are issues they are important as well.”

The Martin Luther Who? Conference 2017 is just one event amongst a whole year of celebrations marking the anniversary of Newcastle University offering Martin Luther King an honorary degree in 1967.

Freedom City 2017 is a partnership between Newcastle University, Northern Roots and Newcastle Gateshead Initiative.

In a ceremony that took place in the King’s Hall, Dr King made a speech that then became the last one he had ever made outside of the United States before he was assassinated less than a year later.

Dr King addressed the university saying:

“Although I cannot say that I am worthy of such a great honour, I can also assure you that you give me renewed courage and vigour to carry on in the struggle to make peace and justice a reality for all men and women all over the world.”

He continued:

“There are 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.”

Liberty Blythe told The Courier that IDS chose speakers, who would reflect on these three problems and discuss how to combat them.

Ms Onwurah said:

“I was of course aware of our region’s tradition of fighting for social justice.

“From the trade union movement to the cooperative movement and to the fair trade movement, from religious freedom to the Jarrow march we have a long active history in the struggle for progress.

“In the light of this, it was clearly no accident that Newcastle was the only university outside of the United States to honour King in his lifetime.

“And, newly independent from Durham, I am sure that we wanted to set our stall as a modern university committed to social justice.”

Jack Taylor, president of Newcastle University Students’ Union, said: “The Civil Rights Conference was a great success and had over 100 people in consistent attendance throughout the day.

“Some challenging and incredibly interesting views were brought to the fore, which generated a fantastic discourse during the conference.

“A huge well done to the International Development Society and all the volunteers that helped out on the day.”

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