Monument to a civil rights hero
STATUE OF MARTIN LUTHER KING UNVEILED AT NEWCASTLE UNI
A BRONZE statue of Dr Martin Luther King has been unveiled at Newcastle University by a man who knew him better than most.
Ambassador Andrew Young was a friend and colleague of the American civil rights leader and accompanied him to Newcastle on November 13, 1967 when he received an honorary degree from the university.
He confessed that he didn’t recall the occasion, 50 years ago to the day, when he and Dr King made their fleeting visit to the city.
But after unveiling the two metre high statue in the university’s new King’s Quadrangle, he said: “It probably looks more like him than any of the other statues I’ve seen – and I’ve seen a lot.”
To sculptor Nigel Boonham, who also created the statue of Cardinal Basil Hume outside St Mary’s Cathedral in Newcastle, he added: “God has blessed your hand.”
The statue, he hoped, would “continue to warm the hearts of the students that study here and the visitors that pass through.”
Dr King’s visit to Newcastle was made particularly memorable by the inspiring and impromptu speech he delivered on receiving his doctor of law degree.
Newcastle was the only UK university to honour Dr King in this way during his lifetime and the ceremony happened just days after he had been released from prison in America.
Tragically, he was assassinated just eight months later in Memphis, Tennessee.
The Newcastle speech was the last he delivered outside the United States before his death at the age of 39.
Nigel Boonham’s statue stands in the new courtyard next to the King’s Hall where Dr King received his degree and made his speech.
Its base stands on Caithness paving with bronze lettering engraved by Andrew Whittle.
Quoting from Dr King’s speech, it states: “There are three urgent and indeed great problems that we face – poverty, war, racism.”
The statue will become the focal point of a new route that all students at the university will process along at the end of their graduation ceremony.
At the unveiling ceremony Prof Chris Day, vice-chancellor and president of Newcastle University, said it was “a momentous day for the university” and the culmination of a year-long programme of events marking Dr King’s visit. He hoped the statue would inspire students to achieve greatness by showing the same qualities demonstrated by Dr King.
Dr Robert A Brown, president of Boston University, was at the ceremony because that was where Martin Luther King studied, graduating in 1955. The American university also holds Dr King’s official archive.
He praised Newcastle University for its prescience in honouring Martin Luther King, a man who was “the embodiment of courage and the embodiment of the New Testament teaching of forgiveness.”
He spoke of Dr King’s “resonant wise voice” and said that while an assassin had claimed his life, it hadn’t stopped his life. The words and teachings live on.
Andrew Young, rising from a mobility scooter to deliver a speech and unveil the statue, suggested during an eloquent speech that he believed “enormous progress” had been made in the areas of race and war.
It was his contention that the main problem now confronting the world was poverty.
Nigel Boonham, who looked at more than 100 photographs and used two life models to create the statue of Dr King, said he was “absolutely thrilled” to be commissioned to create his likeness.
“Martin Luther King is a complete gift for a sculptor like me who looks for meaning and depth in a portrait sculpture,” he said.
“It has been an absolute privilege to make this work.”
He said after working to create a likeness of the elaborate robes tumbling down Dr King’s back, it had been a relief to return to the front of the statue and “the calm fortitude of Dr King’s face”.
Professor Eric Cross, dean of cultural affairs at Newcastle University, said before yesterday’s ceremony: “This statue is a lasting tribute to the values that Dr King stood for and a unique record of one of the most significant moments in the university’s history.
“Sadly, the challenges of racism, poverty and war are still relevant to this day.
“Having a statue of such an inspirational figure as Dr King on our campus will remind all visitors to the university of our commitment to social justice and the need to keep Dr King’s legacy alive.”
The unveiling was attended by more than 100 guests, among them Robert A Brown, president of Boston University.
Clare Rogers, director of estates at the university, said: “I feel honoured that I was privileged to commission this statue, having strived to uplift the campus by introducing art for the enjoyment of students, staff and visitors. We plan to continue this with more distinctive artwork, making the university a cultural destination for all.”
Following the unveiling of the statue Ambassador Andrew Young also received an honorary degree in the King’s Hall.
Andrew Young, a close friend of Martin Luther King Jnr, unveiling the statue
Dr Martin Luther King at Newcastle University 1967
The crowd at the unveiling