Over a century before one internationally renowned American peace activist, Martin Luther King Jr, visited Newcastle Upon-Tyne, the city played host to another on the 13th of November 1846.
The Newcastle Peace Society, which for over fifty years had been the hub of Tyneside's peace movement, welcomed Elihu Burritt to Newcastle for a lecture espousing the principles of peace. Born in Connecticut in 1810, Burritt was a visionary peace activist who dedicated his life to struggling against slavery and other issues of peace and justice. In 1846 Burritt was in England to set up the British branches of the League of Universal Brotherhood, an international peace organisation which had as its aim the cessation and abolition of all forms of warfare.
In October he had penned a letter to a friend stating his desire to visit Newcastle, because he had "some measures of importance to lay before the friends of peace and antislavery" in Tyneside. The following month his wish was granted, and he spoke at the Music Hall on Nelson Street in front of what local newspaper the Newcastle Guardian and Tyne Mercury described as "a very numerous audience, the room being crowded in every part." Burritt spoke about the pacifist teachings of the Christian God, and argued in following God's teachings "the Christian could not fight, nor hate, nor curse, nor injure, nor scorn his brother man." His lecture was greeted with lengthy applause, and Burritt left Newcastle some days later having solidified a relationship with some of Newcastle's leading peace activists.
It was not to be Burritt's last involvement with Tyneside. In setting up his League of Universal Brotherhood, Burritt proposed in July 1847 that Britain be split into twelve districts, each of which would hold a meeting over the following year. Newcastle was chosen as one of these twelve. He was also to visit again over the following years, especially in February 1849 when he spoke again at a number of meetings. One of these, held on the 9th of February, he described as the "most important and impressive" of his lecture series. Burritt's visits dovetailed with one of the most active and fervent periods of the Newcastle Peace Society, and it shows the longstanding and historical connections between Tyneside and US peace activists even before King's 1967 visit.
Burritt's involvement in the British peace movement is best described in Martin Ceadel's 1996 book The Origins of War Prevention, pp. 356-413. Burritt's Nelson Street lecture is described in full in the Newcastle Guardian and Tyne Mercury of 14th of November 1846. The author is happy to provide a PDF of the relevant page upon request.