Mon­u­ment to a civil rights hero


The Chronicle - - News - By DAVID WHETSTONE Cul­ture Re­porter david.whetstone@ncj­me­

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

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