Sheffield first to see powerful civil rights exhibition

I am a man  Memphis sanitation workers' strike, 1968  
Copyright: Ernest. C Withers
I am a man Memphis sanitation workers' strike, 1968 Copyright: Ernest. C Withers
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The UK’s first major exhibition on the US civil rights movement and its impact in the UK opens on Saturday (May 28) in Sheffield.

The launch of Journey to Justice marks the 50th anniversary of the two-year stay in Sheffield of Dr Preston King, a leading American academic and noted civil rights advocate.

Dr King, the father of Baroness King (ex-Labour MP Oona King), came to Britain in 1961 after he fled before he was jailed for evading being drafted into the US military.

He had been studying abroad but was refused an extension and was angered because the draft board called him Preston, not Mr King, in correspondence.

He was stripped of his US citizenship and worked at several British universities, including Sheffield. He was eventually pardoned in 2000 by President Bill Clinton.

The exhibition, created by human rights organisation Journey to Justice, tells the story of both famous and obscure civil rights heroes whose courage and tenacity challenged American segregation and racial violence.

Opening the launch will be Father Grant Naylor, priest of St Matthew’s Church, and performers include Grammy-nominated Steve Edwards.

Speakers will include representatives from Sheffield Amnesty, Sheffield Environmental Movement and Romano Jilo, Nikki Sharpe, Shahnaz Ali and Paul Blomfield MP.

Uniquely, the exhibition highlights the links between the US movement and social justice struggles in Sheffield.

In 1964 Sheffield University played host to a visit by Malcolm X.

The city was one of only three places outside of London where he spoke.

In his speech Malcolm X said “We are not fighting for civil rights, we are fighting for human rights.

“Freedom is a valuable thing.”

The organisers also point out that South Yorkshire has a proud history of speaking out for social justice campaigns.

Sheffield was a leading light in the struggle to end slavery in the 19th century. The first call for the vote for women was also made in the city by the Sheffield Female Political Association, set up in 1851.

In more recent times Sheffield has been a hub for the Anti-Apartheid Movement and the Asian Youth Movement.

Along with the once-described ‘political refugee’ Dr Preston King, the city has also welcomed to speak the likes of freed slave and anti-slavery campaigner Olaudah Equiano, singer and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson and immigration rights campaigner Anwar Ditta.

Working with a steering group and partners including Sheffield City Council, both universities, trade unions, youth and community groups, artists and musicians, Journey to Justice will offer a month of events, including courses, walks, talks, music and film, to complement the exhibition.

Part of its mission is to inspire and empower people to take action for social justice. For more details, go to the website, journeytojustice.org.uk

The exhibition is being held in the Art House, Sheffield city centre, next to St Matthew’s Church on Carver Street.