Powell is remembered for his infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ in 1968 in which he questioned the influx of migrants into the UK and warned of racial conflict in the future if it continued.
The lecture, which has been organised by the faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Wolverhampton, will explore Powell’s relationship with Wolverhampton.
It will be introduced by Labour’s Eleanor Smith who, at June’s General Election, was elected MP for Wolverhampton South West – the same seat which was held by Powell from its creation in 1950 until 1974.
The lecture’s speaker will be Dr Shirin Hirsch, a postdoctoral research fellow in history at the university, who is currently completing a book on Powell, Race and Resistance, which is due to be published next year.
A description of the lecture states: “Almost 50 years ago, Enoch Powell made national headlines in what would become known of as his ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech. He dramatically warned of an immigrant invasion in the once respectable streets of Wolverhampton.
“This focus brought the Black Country town into the national spotlight, yet Powell’s unstable relationship with Wolverhampton has since been overlooked.
“This lecture explores this relationship further. It draws out a rich local history, which Powell’s words reflected, distorted and reformulated.
“Through interviews and archival research, the talk examines alternative responses to the speech and allows us to reflect on questions of race, class and resistance in Wolverhampton. In a contemporary period of economic crisis and national divisions, revisiting the shadow of Powell is pertinent in grappling with emerging change.”
Powell was elected as MP for Wolverhampton South West in 1950 and a decade later was appointed Health Minister. The defining moment of his career came on April 20, 1968.
In the speech, he said: “We must be mad, literally mad, as a nation to be permitting the annual inflow of some 50,000 dependants.” He told those present in Birmingham it was like watching a nation ‘busily engaged in heaping up its own funeral pyre’, and called for urgent encouragement of re-emigration.
The Conservative MP used allusions to ancient Roman literature when he warned the streets of Britain will be awash with blood as a result of racial conflict.
“As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see the River Tiber foaming with much blood,” he said.
The sheer quantity of letters sent to the Express & Star in the week following the speech is said to have disrupted the entire town’s postal system.
Afterwards, Powell increasingly found himself at odds with the Conservative Party hierarchy and left them in 1974 before making a dramatic return to Parliament the same year as an Ulster Unionist MP for South Down.
He was defeated in the 1987 general election and died in 1998, aged 85.
The University of Wolverhampton lecture is in October 19 at the city centre campus.