#AtoZ 1968 – “R” is for Rivers of Blood speech

“You’re going to get a concept that maybe this really is one world and why the hell can’t we learn to live together like decent people.” ~ Astronaut Frank Borman, on seeing the entire earth from outer space as he and the crew of the Apollo 8 returned from orbiting the moon.

Rivers of Blood
Enoch Powell

On April 20, 1968, British member of Parliament Enoch Powell addressed a meeting of the Conservative Political Center in Birmingham, England. His speech strongly criticized mass immigration, especially immigration to the United Kingdom. His speech became known as the “Rivers of Blood” speech (although Powell always referred to it as “the Birmingham speech”).

The phrase “rivers of blood” is an allusion to a line from Virgil’s Aeneid which was quoted by Powell: “As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see the River Tiber foaming with much blood.”

The speech caused a political storm and led to Powell’s controversial dismissal from the Shadow Cabinet by Conservative Party leader Edward Heath. In his speech, Powell stated, “We must be mad, literally mad, as a nation to be permitting the annual inflow of some 50,000 dependents, who are for the most part the material of the future growth of the immigrant descended population. So insane are we that we actually permit unmarried persons to immigrate for the purpose of founding a family with spouses whom they have never seen.” The Times newspaper declared it ‘an evil speech,’ stating, “This is the first time that a serious British politician has appealed to racial hatred in this direct way in our postwar history.” The Times went on to record incidents of racial attacks in the immediate aftermath of Powell’s speech. One such incident took place on April 30: it involved a slashing incident with 14 white youths chanting “Powell” and “Why don’t you go back to your own country?” at patrons of a West Indian christening party.

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Here’s the #17 song from Billboard’s Year-End Top 100 Singles of 1968
“Stoned Soul Picnic” by The Fifth Dimension

10 thoughts on “#AtoZ 1968 – “R” is for Rivers of Blood speech

  1. I’ve been going back through your posts to see if you listed my favorite song from this year, so far no luck. But I did see the Fifth Dimension in a private show that a local mall developer put on for a few hundred friends. Quite a treat.


  2. The Devil needs a new speech writer…….”he” just keeps regurgitaing the same themes over and over………….
    Or is it just because it “seems” to work……..over and over??


  3. I guess looking at Britain now compared to 1968–if you like the look, he was wrong. Or vice versa. An interesting reflective piece, Martha.

    BTW, I just finished Dirty Work. I loved it. More in my review!


  4. Two such opposite points of view from the politician and the astronaut. And fifty years later we still haven’t resolved the differences!


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