Today (Monday 16 January) is the day the United States celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day. This year, Newcastle upon Tyne launches an exciting, year-long commemoration to mark the 50th anniversary of Dr King receiving an honorary degree from our very own Newcastle University.

Freedom City 2017 will see large-scale outdoor events, exhibitions, public art displays, magnificent musical performances and an education and academic programme paying tribute to Dr King’s passionate and moving acceptance speech delivered at Newcastle University on 13 November 1967.

This address was to be Dr King’s final speech outside America before his assassination in 1968. Freedom City 2017 explores the themes of what he called the three ‘urgent and great problems’ of war, poverty and racism – which remain as relevant today as they were back in 1967.

An honorary, city-wide cultural programme across Newcastle and Gateshead will see exciting Freedom City 2017 events scattered throughout the year at venues including BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Northern Stage, Live Theatre and Seven Stories, National Centre for Children’s Books. 

In addition to the cultural events and performances, an education and academic programme – delivered by Newcastle University – will explore the themes of Dr King’s speech and bring his legacy to life for a new generation.

Professor Richard Davies, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Engagement and Internationalisation, Newcastle University, said: “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 university 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.” 

An image of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. – by artist Derek Russell – was projected onto Newcastle University’s building to mark the launch of Freedom City 2017 and to commemorate Martin Luther King Day in the US (Monday 16 January 2017).

City-wide cultural programme

Highlights of Freedom City 2017 include Freedom City on the Tyne, an epic, day-long series of performances commemorating historic civil rights marches from across the world.

Directed by renowned British theatre director, Tim Supple, Freedom City on the Tyne will use drama, dance, performance art and music to tell the stories of people throughout history who have united to demand political and social change.

Other highlights of the year-long cultural programme include a major new exhibition at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art featuring work by world-renowned artists responding to ongoing issues of civil rights internationally. Starless Midnight is co-curated by leading artist Edgar Arceneaux, who has worked extensively with Dr King’s archive, and BALTIC’s chief curator Laurence Sillars. A solo presentation of Arceneaux’s work will also be on display.

In October 2017, a new exhibition telling the story of Dr King’s visit to Newcastle upon Tyne will open at Great North Museum: Hancock. Created in partnership with the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, USA, the exhibition will shine a light on the honorary degree ceremony at Newcastle University. The exhibition will also feature a collection of oral histories and photographs as well as a special exhibition entitled ‘Of Race, Beyond Race: African Americans in Pittsburgh Then and Now’, which will also be on show at the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, USA.

And in November, Sage Gateshead will host a celebration of the music that defined the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s and 70s.

Freedom City 2017 programme

SOLE Central 
A ‘Big Question’ posed via the international SOLE network on Martin Luther King Day to schoolchildren around the world.

Café Culture
Rights and Wrongs: England’s problems with human rights. 
Free to attend café-style public discussions around the key themes of Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s speech.

Newcastle University INSIGHTS Public Lectures Programme
The first of three public lectures exploring war, poverty, racism delivered by internationally-renowned figures, including Baptist minister Rev. Jeffrey Brown.

Newcastle University’s School of Arts and Culture
A series of student-led workshops and events involving artists, curators and musicians 

Muslim youth and political participation in Scotland
Academic research project looking at how Muslim youth in Glasgow participate in politics and the political issues that are most pertinent to them.

Café Culture
Has the Tide Turned? Economic inequality in the UK and worldwide
Free to attend café-style public discussions around the key themes of Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s speech.

Inspirational BAME Women of the Law exhibition, Newcastle University

Schools resource packs about Martin Luther King Jr’s visit to Newcastle
Downloadable from

Vhils – Martin Luther King Jr. portrait 
New artist’s portrait of Martin Luther King Jr in Newcastle 

Theatre Royal Newcastle and Bravo 22 
Bravo 22 company is the Royal British Legion’s recovery through the arts programme, helping wounded Service personnel along with veterans and their family members on their path of recovery through theatre or art.

South Shields Museum and Gallery
On 16 July 1977 World Heavyweight Boxing Champion, Muhammad Ali visited South Shields. This mini exhibition, celebrating 40 years since his visit, will include a set of signed boxing gloves alongside photographs and text relating to his visit.  

Newcastle University’s School of Arts and Cultures – Teaching Module
A cross-School, team-taught module on the theme of cultural responses to war, poverty and racism.

Rhyme Scene
An evolving exhibition at Seven Stories, National Centre for Children’s Books developed with a group of young people. Rhyme Scene will develop and grow as visitors contribute to an ongoing conversation about freedom and other complex themes impacting on our world.

Kalpana’s Warriors at The Athenaeum Building, Sunderland
A new installation exploring the disappearance of Kalpana Chakma who campaigned for the rights of indigenous people in the Chittagong Hill Tracts area of Bangladesh.

20 OCTOBER 2017– 21 JANUARY 2018
BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art
A major group exhibition featuring the work of some of the most significant artists working today responding to ongoing issues of civil rights internationally.

27 & 28 OCTOBER
Platforma Festival
The fourth Platforma Festival: bringing together artists, organisations, policy makers, academics and the public to discuss and celebrate the arts by, with and about refugees and migrants.

Juice – NewcastleGateshead’s festival families and under 25s
The 2017 Festival will use the theme ‘Freedom City 2017’ to commission and create a number of arts projects made by children and young people, drawing upon their ideas and creative responses to Dr King’s legacy.

The Magpie
A black and white tent, with a black and white cast, giving a circus residency to the public.

Great North Museum: Hancock – Exhibition: Martin Luther King’s visit 1967
An exhibition focusing on Martin Luther King’s visit to Newcastle at Great North Museum: Hancock. Also featuring ‘Of Race, Beyond Race: African Americans in Pittsburgh Then and Now’, a partnership with Carnegie Museum of Art (CMoA) in Pittsburgh, USA.

Pittsburgh Oral Histories Project
185 oral histories of Black Pittsburgh collected by academics at Newcastle University will feature as part of the GNM:Hancock exhibition, and will also be used in research, teaching and impact.

Newcastle University’s School of Arts and Culture – Student-led Exhibition
A multi-media exhibition, held in the on-campus XL gallery, accompanied by film screenings and performances.

‘The Mighty Stream’ – Poetry Anthology and Performances 
The Mighty Stream is a collection of new and published poems from some of the best US and UK poets organised around the themes of war, poverty and racism, edited by award-winning poets Jackie Kay and Carolyn Forché and published by North East-based Bloodaxe Books.

Songs of Freedom
A celebration of the music that defined the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s and 70s.

Martin Luther King Jr. sculpture
New Nigel Boonham sculpture of Martin Luther King Jr. unveiled at Newcastle University.

The Speech 50 years on – a formal commemoration event at the Kings Hall, Newcastle University
Marking the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s speech at Newcastle University.

Symposium on Approaches to Diversity in British Children’s Books
Co-sponsored by Newcastle University’s Institute for Social Renewal and Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books. This symposium brings together Seven Stories staff, children’s literature practitioners, publishers, academics, librarians and museum professionals to consider issues around children’s literature and race. 

Dance City
Award-winning Brooklyn-based theatrical hip-hop company Decadancetheatre will deliver a series of workshops and residencies at Dance City.

Freedom City on the Tyne
An epic, day-long series of performances in November commemorating historic civil rights marches from across the world. Directed by Tim Supple.


Date TBC
International Academic Conference
A marquee academic conference on Dr King, civil rights and non-violent direct action.

For more information about Freedom City 2017,