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Anger over plan to honour 'racist' Powell with plaque

OPPOSED: Wolverhampton South West MP Eleanor Smith says it is more important to look forward and celebrate diversity in the city

POSSIBLE PLANS to honour the life of the late controversial Wolverhampton South West MP Enoch Powell have been met with strong opposition by the city’s black community.

Calls to award Powell with a blue plaque, given to people of historical significance, gained momentum following a local newspaper poll in which more than 20,000 people took part.

More than 70 per cent of readers who took part supported the idea of Powell being given the civic honour.

Wolverhampton Civic and Historical Society received an application from an unidentified person to honour the politician, who caused outrage in 1968 after strongly criticising immigration in his infamous Rivers of Blood speech.

It was described as one of the most divisive and racist speeches ever made by a British politician.

A petition has been launched to oppose the move which includes several high profile signatories, including Clive Gregory, Bishop of Wolverhampton, who said that it would be “widely interpreted as honouring Enoch Powell’s racist views”.

Among those leading the local black community’s opposition to the proposed move is Sandra Samuels OBE, Labour councillor for Ettingshall Ward.

She told The Voice: “The Windrush generation would feel insulted if Enoch Powell was given a blue plaque. Before the speech, there were black people in the West Midlands who had fought in the Second World War and were contributing to this city and the country. They were invited and had a right to be here, no matter what Enoch Powell said.”

She continued: “A blue plaque celebrates leaving a legacy of achievement. Enoch Powell was an MP, but what legacy did he leave? It was that speech and giving him a plaque would endorse what he stood for – division and intense dislike for minority communities. It would be like saying, ‘Well done Enoch Powell’.

PICTURED: Enoch Powell

“Still, we have moved on. I am seated in what is now called The Heritage Centre, but for a long time was a white-only institution. The black community now owns and runs this building. We have an African Caribbean MP in the seat Powell used to hold.

"These are just two things that demonstrate that progress has been made. We don’t need to look back to Enoch Powell or what he stood for.”

Wolverhampton South West MP Eleanor Smith is one of three of the city MPs who is also organising opposition to the move. She was elected last June to the Wolverhampton South West seat that Powell held between 1950 and 1974.

She told The Voice: “Enoch Powell is part of the history of Wolverhampton. We can’t deny that, nor should we, but we have moved on.

“Whatever the reasons for his Rivers of Blood speech were, we must not remember the negative feelings it brought and the marches that were held by the groups that supported him and the way the media reported it. What wasn’t covered and what isn’t remembered were the positive outcomes - the marches against him.”

She continued: “Black and Asian immigrants were easy targets in 1968 – the UK economy was fading and jobs were not as available as before. We can’t wipe out history, but we must remember that his prediction did not come to fruition and we are a much more cohesive society now than he would have wanted us to be.

"Enoch Powell tried to destroy Wolverhampton, but it did not work. While we can’t forget him nor wipe him out of history, it is quite another thing to celebrate him with a blue plaque. The important thing is to look forward and celebrate the diversity in the city.”

Bishop Llewellyn Graham, senior pastor at Wolverhampton’s Jubilee Christian Centre told The Voice: “I first heard of Enoch Powell from my late father, Wilburn, who came to the UK in 1954.

“I came to the UK to join my family in 1976, from St Thomas in Jamaica and I remember my father saying what a divisive figure Powell was. My father’s generation came here on invitation in response to opportunities to build new lives after the damage done to the country during the Second World War.”

Graham continued: “Everything associated with Enoch Powell has been negative for our community, so to celebrate him with a blue plaque or any kind of honour would be a slap in the face to them, for the work they have done to rebuild the country and the progress subsequent generations have made to build cohesive communities in Wolverhampton and the wider areas.

“This is why I am not in favour of any plans to honour Enoch Powell or those like him.”

Powell’s 1968 speech prompted his expulsion from the Shadow Cabinet by then Conservative party leader Edward Heath and marked the beginning of the end of his long political career.

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