Martin Luther King in Newcastle Upon Tyne: The African American Freedom Struggle and Race Relations in the North East of England

Brian Ward



He wasn’t even supposed to speak; his office in Atlanta had made that very clear. Yet there he was, in the heart of Newcastle upon Tyne: Martin Luther King, Jr., the foremost figure in the US civil rights movement, making an impromptu speech in which he linked the African American freedom struggle to developments in British race relations and issued a call for all people of goodwill to meet the global challenges of war, poverty and racism. The date was November 13, 1967. The occasion was the award to King of an Honorary Doctorate in Civil Law by the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. 

This book tells the inside story of King’s visit. It explains why he was invited, describes the events of the day itself, and investigates why King flew across the Atlantic to spend less than eleven hours in a city that he knew little about in the midst of his brutal work schedule and at a time of enormous professional strain and personal doubt. It also reveals how film of King’s ‘lost speech’ was rediscovered, puts his spellbinding words into the context of 1960s British and US race relations, and argues for their continued importance half a century later.

Finally, the book places King’s visit within another lost history: the history of links between the African American freedom struggle and the North East. It not only shows how King was one of many distinguished African American visitors to the region, including Olaudah Equiano and Frederick Douglass before him and Muhammad Ali and Harry Belafonte afterwards, but also explains how those connections influenced the development of race relations in the region.

Exhaustively researched, engagingly written and, by turns, moving, sobering and inspiring, Martin Luther King in Newcastle brings alive the historic significance and contemporary relevance of this fascinating episode in North East, British and US history.

Praise for Martin Luther King in Newcastle upon Tyne:

A fascinating book about a forgotten slice of Newcastle and American history that has much to teach us about race relations in the 21st century. The continuing importance of the message Martin Luther King brought to Newcastle in 1967 shines through on every page.

Shaka Hislop, Newcastle Utd, Show Racism the Red Card.

As a young kid I was drawn to the sound of southern black America, I followed the path of the many great bluesmen who came to perform in my home city of Newcastle, to find my own. The North East has always embraced black Americans and I was very proud that we recognised the brilliance and importance of Martin Luther King and later Muhammad Ali, who had his marriage blessed by an Imam in a South Shields mosque. This book explains the history and politics behind those visits and reminds us that Martin Luther King's message is as vital today as it ever was – and I, too, still have a dream...                           

Eric Burdon.

Brian Ward makes Martin Luther King, Jr.'s visit to Newcastle upon Tyne in 1967 the starting point for an impressively authoritative and breathtakingly sweeping examination of the city's and region's engagement with global struggles for freedom and equality over several centuries. Packed with expert analysis, insightful examples and surprising connections, Ward compellingly argues that past racial and ethnic relations profoundly inform the present and still remain tellingly relevant today.

John A. Kirk, George W. Donaghey, Distinguished Professor of History and Director of the Anderson Institute on Race and Ethnicity, University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Brian Ward reveals for the first time the full inside story of Martin Luther King's historic 1967 visit to Newcastle, placing it within the context of King's own career and a long tradition of progressive social activism on Tyneside and across the North East. Equally important, Ward's book helps to recover the history of racial, ethnic and religious diversity on Tyneside, along with the region's many international connections. This important book is as timely as it is compelling.                 

Chi Onwurah, MP.

About the author:

Brian Ward is Professor in American Studies at Northumbria University and currently Chair of the British Association for American Studies. He has previously taught at the Universities of Durham, Newcastle upon Tyne, Florida and Manchester. Among his many publications are the multiple award-winning books Just My Soul Responding: Rhythm and Blues, Black Consciousness and Race Relations (1998) and Radio and the Struggle for Civil Rights in the South (2004).


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No of pages Hardback/softback: 
308 page, Hardback