MLK Day: ‘Racism; Black man’s burden, white man’s shame’



This year Fifty years ago, Dr Martin Luther King made a prophetic speech whilst being honoured with a doctorate at the University of Newcastle.

For his work as a freedom fighter, and ‘social revolutionary’ the University’s chancellor awarded him with a Doctorate of law.

During his acceptance speech, Dr King, speaking with no notes, explained the three evils of the word: ‘War, poverty and racism’. He said of racism that it was the ‘Black man’s burden and the white man’s shame’. Adding, that, ‘Morality cannot be legislated for, but with it behaviour can be regulated’.

And with great humility and  humour with an embarrassed chuckle from the audience King prophetically said:

"changing the law won’t make a man love me, but it might restrain him from lynching me... and that’s pretty important."

Within five months of that speech King was dead, not by what he most feared,- the lynching mob- but by the assassin’s bullet.

Today at the ‘Speakers House’ within the House of Commons Newcastle University sought honour MLK day and the 50th anniversary year of his Doctorate with a city wide  year long celebration entitled Freedom City 2017.

To launch the celebrations, Newcastle MP Chi Onwurah was joined by the outgoing US Ambassador Matthew Barzun, Dawn Butler MP, and the Speaker of the House, John Bercow.

Onwurah stated in her remarks that as a child in Newcastle, with all the racism and isolation that she was unaware the King had been to Newcastle. But  said:

'Now I want every child in the city to  know, Black and white. 'I’m sure I would have walked that much taller if I’d have known that this great man visited our city."

US Ambassador Barzun stated that, he’d first come across the story of King and the Newcastle connection on his second of his term at an OBV event marking the, ‘I have a dream’ speech’ with Rev Jesse Jackson at the US Embassy. He said it’s fitting therefore, ‘on my penultimate day as Ambassador I finish at this event honouring King and Newcastle connection.’

If you haven’t watched this video then take 10 minutes out to see it. Its shows MLK, still young looking, slightly tired, but none the less impassioned about confronting injustice.

Happy Birthday MLK- Your dream lives on.

Simon Woolley