Fifty years ago, on November 13th 1967, the degree of Honorary Doctor of Law was awarded to Martin Luther King by Newcastle University. On the same day, fifty years later, a commemorative congregation was held where four people sharing his ideals, had honorary degrees conferred upon them as Brenda Dinsdale, Reform Judaism Board member and Honorary Life President of Newcastle Reform Synagogue explains
It was a great honour and privilege to be among the attendees at this ceremony, representing our community.
Five days before this event, I had returned from a visit to South Africa. I had visited the Capture Site, where Nelson Mandela had been apprehended before his 27 year jail sentence, giving extra resonance to my attendance at the Congregation. One of the recipients of an Honorary Doctorate is Andrew J. Young, past USA congressman and civil rights activist. He had been imprisoned at the same time as Mandela and had also been present in Newcastle when Dr King had made that all too brief visit to accept his award. It was fitting that Mr Young should also be recognised, although it was mentioned that this was his 46th Honorary Degree.
Malorie Blackman, OBE was awarded Honorary Doctor of letters and, in her acceptance speech spoke movingly of ‘The day which changed my life’. This was the day when she was diagnosed with sickle cell anaemia, and which subsequently became the driving force for her to become a children’s author.
Archie Sibeko, although now in poor health, continues to inspire young people in his never ending determination to enable people to understand the struggle against the apartheid regime. His step daughter spoke on his behalf as he was unable to do so. Nevertheless he was present to receive his Honorary Civil Law Degree.
Thomas Caulker has worked in Newcastle all his life. He has been described as ‘one of Newcastle’s unsung heroes’ for the way he continually strives to cascade his values and his ethics to generations of young people, mainly through the medium of music. His enthusiasm for his chosen work shone through as he also became an Honorary Doctor of Civil Law
Alongside these eminent award recipients was a cohort of 13 Post Graduate students, also receiving doctorates. I am sure they will never forget such a wonderful occasion.
For me, there are parallels between the struggle for racial equality and the fight against anti Semitism. It was important that our community participated and that I learned more of the work of Dr Martin Luther King. It was a humbling experience and I would urge people to take the time to look at the statue of Dr King erected in a newly created courtyard adjacent to the Armstrong building at the university. Around the base of the statue are carved words from Dr King’s 1967 speech, highlighting the causes for which he fought so hard – war, poverty and racism, causes which are still relevant today and which we, as Jews, may find even more powerful.