Major civil rights exhibition launches a national tour in Newcastle

 

Dr Martin Luther King pictured with a group of students at Newcastle University in 1967
Dr Martin Luther King pictured with a group of students at Newcastle University in 1967

The visit by Martin Luther King to Newcastle in 1967 will link America’s fight for civil rights and battles waged on our own doorstep in a major exhibition making its national debut in the North next month.

Former US civil rights worker Marcia Heinemann Saunders will be over to cut the ribbon at the launch of Journey to Justice  on April 4 – the anniversary of King’s assassination – at Discovery Museum where it will run for a month ahead of a national tour.

And it’s set to get everyone talking with its fascinating mix of archive film, photographs, music, poetry, oral histories and high-profile speakers including former ANC freedom fighter Archie Sibeko, now settled in the region.

It’s the culmination of nearly three years’ hard work and fund-raising by former teacher Carrie Supple whose initial idea, inspired by a trip to the US, spiralled to include a huge range of local organisations and supporters as well as volunteers.

The London-based 56-year-old, whose mother was from Newcastle and who herself taught history in the region for 10 years, is delighted how it’s taken off.

“I’m very excited about it,” she said.

“I went to America in 2012 and visited the civil rights museums. I thought it would be great telling the story in the UK when I came back.”

Newcastle was a natural choice for it, with her own links, the visit from King when the civil rights leader received an honorary degree from Newcastle University, our own historic struggles and the scale of support she found here which includes some university funding.

Running until May 4, the focus of the exhibition will be on stories rarely heard.

Those of the American civil rights movement in the sixties include Marcia’s support in helping African Americans in Tennessee to register their vote; six-year-old Ruby Bridges who had to be escorted to school under armed guard because of the fury caused by allowing her entry to an all-white school, and the Greensboro sit-in where students were refused service at a “whites only” counter in a Woolworth store in North Carolina. The exhibition will recreate the counter where visitors can sit and learn about the story.

And the backdrop to it all will be the stirring church music of the civil rights era.

“Many said the music gave them the strength and the hope to get them through,” said Carrie.

Tyneside’s social justice story will feature The Jarrow March and fights for better health care, housing, mining conditions, pay and trade union rights, and local young people have played a part by recording memories of the older generation.

“There are people who recall being in the room with Martin Luther King in 1967,” said Carrie.

Source – Sunday Sun, 15 Mar 2015

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