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Remembering the 'Rivers of blood' speech - 50 years on

DISMISSED: Enoch Powell was sacked from Edward Heath’s shadow cabinet following his controversial address

PLANS ARE underway to mark the 50th anniversary of the controversial ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech by Enoch Powell with a series of events, and a call is being made to those who attended two Wolverhampton primary schools in the late 1960s and early 1970s, to take part.

These events will include a reunion of Grove and West Park Primary Schools, which have historical links to the late Conservative MP. The reunions, which will take place at the city’s Heritage Centre, will be accompanied by a play, conference and panel debate on Saturday, April 21 – 50 years to the day that Powell gave the controversial address.

Locally based activist Patrick Vernon, a former pupil at Wolverhampton’s Grove Primary School, is among the event organisers. The School was officially unveiled at a ceremony attended by Powell, then the Conservative MP for the Black Country town, in December 1968.

Vernon, said: “I was seven years old at the time and unwittingly, with a number of pupils, we had to stand nearby when the plaque was unveiled and ribbon was cut. The school was opened in September, and Powell, who opposed the school, came to the official opening.

Over 80 per cent of the pupils were of Caribbean and Asian heritage. Renee Short, the Labour MP for Wolverhampton North East, refused to attend because she did not want to share the same platform with Powell.” There will also be reunion of former West Park Primary pupils, the school which Powell falsely claimed to the media there was only one white pupil.

This created a media frenzy, which has drawn comparisons with the reaction to statements made by a similarly divisive political figure, current US President Donald Trump. The day will also include a play reflecting on the impact of Powell’s speech, along with a panel conference, which will allow reflection on its legacy and anti-racism movements it stimulated.

PICTURD: Patrick Vernon

The Heritage Centre used to be Powell’s constituency office and was where he drafted his speech. Ironically, this centre is now run by the black community. These activities are part of a wider event celebrating the diversity and history of the multicultural communities in Wolverhampton, called Many Rivers to Cross.

Many Rivers to Cross will document the local impact of Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech, courtesy of a £9,400 Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grant. Led by research fellow Dr Shirin Hirsch, alongside two leading artists, the project will create an exhibition at Wolverhampton City Archives drawing out pho- tographs and media material connected with the speech.

A collection will be created which will be used as a school resource. Dr Hirsch said: “Powell’s speech is remembered by a whole range of different voices, but particularly for black and Asian immigrant communities who had been targeted in the speech, the impact was felt strongly.

“We are interested in remembering the ignored, local stories within Wolverhampton and discussing new forms of racism but also anti-racist politics, which intensified following the speech.

"Through our Many Rivers to Cross project we hope to preserve a long- term accessible historical record on the impact of the speech on black and Asian people in Wolverhampton and to generate new discussions on the legacy of Enoch Powell in Wolverhampton today.”

Claiming to speak for his constituents, in his speech Powell warned there will be racial violence and bloodshed if immigration of people from Africa, Asia and the Caribbean continued, which he saw as the cause of rising crime, pov- erty and societal breakdown.

A call is being made for former pupils and those connected to them to connect with Vernon on Twitter, via @ppvernon or send an email to or

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