Martin Luther King: Americans shown 'lost' Newcastle speech

Media caption,
Rare film of a speech given by Martin Luther King will screen for the first time to those who were there over 40 years ago.

Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream speech is known around the world, but few people are aware of another powerful speech he gave in north-east England in 1967 while accepting an honorary doctorate from Newcastle University. Here Americans viewing the speech for the first time give their assessment.

Martin Luther King had recently been released from prison when he visited Newcastle for just 24 hours to receive an honorary doctorate in civil law. He gave a speech which profoundly moved many who witnessed it yet the footage subsequently lay forgotten in the university's archives for more than 40 years.

Five months after his flying visit, he was shot dead in Memphis, Tennessee.

In the speech he warned of the risk of creating ghettos in the UK and of the dangers of everyday racism and plucked phrases from a repertoire used in his previous speeches.

He ended by saying: "With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation, and of all the nations in the world, into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood and speed up the day when all over the world justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream."

BBC Newcastle reporter Murphy Cobbing collected the reactions of prominent and ordinary black Americans to the speech.

Rashad Richey, Atlanta talk show host

Image caption,
Rashad Richey applauded Newcastle for its "understanding of race relations"

"I love it. Powerful. Simply powerful. I was tearing up and when he finished I wanted to clap.

"'Even though you may not make a man love you, you can stop a man from lynching you'. I think it's something that needs to be echoed today.

"I'm so very happy to see this because I think this generation needs to hear these types of comments and the context coming from Dr King.

"I want to say 'Way to go, Newcastle'. Way to go for having a better understanding of race relations than we did in America during the same timeframe.

"And I'm so very humbled that you [are making] sure people in Newcastle and the world will know Dr King was a very cultured man, he was a very celebrated man, because when it comes to America, our young people, we see a tortured man sometimes, we see a very hated man sometimes.

"When we look at our clips of Dr King it's not the great hero you see in this documentary because that's the way the media portrayed Dr King. But your media, your city, your college has portrayed him as the hero that he is."

Kasim Reed, mayor of Dr King's home city, Atlanta

Image caption,
Kasim Reed called for the footage to be shown in the proposed National Centre for Civil and Human Rights

"You can tell the occasion meant a great deal to him and you can see he was exhausted. You could hear it in his voice.

"If you are an excellent orator - and I think he was one of the very best that ever lived - then the occasion will change you and it clearly changed that speech and made it special.

"I think the tape should be shared with the National Centre for Civil and Human Rights [proposed in Atlanta], which will house many of Dr King's papers.

"I'm hopeful an arrangement can be made with the city of Newcastle to ensure that the archival footage is included in the centre, which really is going to be an incredible space.

"Thank you [Newcastle] for not only seeing what Dr King meant and would mean subsequently mean to the world, but thank you for acknowledging it while he was alive and healthy and vibrant."

Rev Raphael Warnock, Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta

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Reverend Warnock, left, with BBC Newcastle's Murphy Cobbing. Dr King became senior pastor at the church in 1960

"It was vintage Martin Luther King Junior - riveting, eloquent and penetrating. In terms of tone and delivery, it reminds me of the speech he gave when he received the Nobel Peace Prize.

"One of the things that strikes me is the way his words are so incredibly relevant all of these years later.

"Here's a man who had a schedule busier than many heads of state and I think it was important for him even in the midst of a dogged schedule to make his way across the pond to help the people in that audience, to raise their consciousness around those issues so the reverberations of the movement would continue.

"He spoke with such amazing passion even in the staid environment of a university congregation."

Nichole Davis, visiting Dr King's home with her family

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The Davis family from Denver, Colorado, on the steps of the home where Dr King was born

"My eldest daughter is graduating from college and I thought it was important we stopped here before we went there.

"This is awesome. It almost brings me to tears.

"I'm speechless. Everyone in the world needs to hear it, I think everyone in the world needs to see it and understand the difference he made to so many people's lives who were there listening to him.

"It is a lot to be sitting here on the steps of the home where he was born to see that and to hear that, It's the feeling he travelled so far to be honoured and no one knows about that. Awesome, it was wonderful."

A'Lelia Bundles, Emmy-winning producer for ABC and NBC

"It's poetic, powerful, seductive.

"The words that he sang could be said today. This is incredible.

"The problems he identified - race, poverty, war - these things are still the issues we are dealing with.

"He is saying we have a really big fight and he's saying we have to do it together. And that hasn't changed.

"This tape should be shown everywhere. It should be on YouTube so children can download it and teachers can use it in classes.

"It should be talked about - the circumstances, the historical significance.

"It's going to be very explosive when people see it. It will resonate.

"It shows you the power of this individual and that he was doing this with love and with hope."

Dr King's friend, ambassador Andrew Young

Image caption,
Andrew Young was alongside Dr King for the visit to Tyneside

"What I find is, every time I listen to Martin Luther King, no matter how many times I've heard him, it always reminds me of something that yet needs to be done. We are still not finished with his struggle.

"He talked about racism, poverty and war. I frankly think we've made significant progress in race, we've made significant progress in war, but I think the economic plight of all Americans and in fact, of Europeans too, has declined since the 50s and 60s.

"He didn't need to fly all the way over there to get recognised by Newcastle, and yet he did. I think it gave an extra prestige to our movement to have the international support that we had.

"When Newcastle recognised our movement, they were also, I think, blessing the concept of the diversity of God's children.

"I count Newcastle as one of the good guys that's working to make peace on earth and good will to men, women and children."

A King's Speech - Martin Luther King on Tyneside is broadcast on Sunday 1 June at 22:55 BST on BBC One North East and Cumbria and nationwide on the iPlayer for seven days thereafter.

You can hear what happened when BBC Radio Newcastle took the speech back to America here.