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I was Enoch’s ‘only white kid in class’: Boy referred to in Enoch Powell speech talks 50 years on

By Marion Brennan | Wolverhampton | News | Published:

"It was a family joke back in 1968 that I was the only white kid at West Park School," says former pupil Michael Edwards.

Michael Edwards, aged eight, and his best friend Ray in a picture that was reproduced around the world

He was speaking about Enoch Powell's infamous reference to a constituent's claim that his child was the only white pupil in her class at a Wolverhampton school.

It immediately became a news story, with reporters from across the globe descending on the new school, opened only the term before, in September 1967.

Michael Edwards

The face of Michael Edwards, eight years old and white, and his best friend Ray, who was black, was published around the world, and is now stored in the Wolverhampton Archives. Other photos of the pair, with fellow pupils, including several white faces, show that Powell's claim was not true.

Nevertheless, the MP's words triggered an escalation in racial tension in the town, leading to letters of objection and demonstrations by some parents concerned there was an ethnic imbalance at the school.

On the 50th anniversary of West Park School's launch, Michael, now 58 and a teacher, is taking part in a project there, recalling his memories of its stormy first year alongside other major racial issues of 1968, including the controversial black power salute at the Mexico Olympics and the assassination of Martin Luther King.

He has set up a Facebook page for former pupils, called Class of 68, and organised a reunion that was being held tonight(FRI 20th) at the Heritage Centre in Clifford Street, Whitmore Reans, for former pupils of that era.

He said: "We were that first generation of black, white and Asian kids brought up together. They were born in this country, the sons and daughters of the first wave of people that came to Wolverhampton from around the world. Our parents would have gone to school when everyone was white.

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"Seeing ourselves on the news, I started to ask questions. Reading the 'Go Home' slogans and other comments painted on walls in the area reinforced why the media came to our school.

"Amongst my family, the joke was 'Michael's the only white kid at West Park'. We all knew it was a lie. Even the photographer had written on the back of the photos that they disproved what Powell was saying.

"Up to that point we were just kids at school. After Powell's rivers of blood speech and his comments about the school everything changed."

The Edwards family moved from Wolverhampton when Michael was 11 to the emerging new town of Telford, and he lost touch with his old pals. But coming from a large family, with siblings and cousins who also attended the school, those memories have remained vivid.

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The 50th anniversary celebration is a joint project with Wolverhampton Archives and Wolverhampton University - and the process has already thrown up surprises, says Mike, now a teacher of trade union studies at Shrewsbury College.

"I showed them pictures of my former primary, Red Cross Street School, from the 1950s, and asked them what they noticed about it.

"They talked about the fact no one was wearing uniform and that there were not many books. Nobody said 'all the kids are white'. Then I showed them the iconic picture of me and Ray, and again there were no questions about race.

"When we were at school, we didn't see race either, and these kids are the same. What drove divisions in my time was white parents being whipped up by Powell , leading to letters to the head and protests by the parents about the concentration of black pupils.

"I lost contact with Ray but he was sent to a secondary school miles from where he lived, as I would have been had I stayed, as I later found out that there was a dispersal policy, possibly as a result of Enoch Powell, or possibly because of the coverage in the newspapers."

He also talks to pupils about his personal experiences at the school and hopes to add to his collection of memories tonight.

"In many ways the school was seen as a centre of excellence, with ground-breaking practices. Lots of dignitaries and heads of state and education chiefs from around the world visited in that first year.

"But that was not our perception as pupils. There was no racial tension amongst us, and from that point of view my education was amazing. But hardly any of us passed the 11-plus.

"That was not the fault of the school but the education authority for not putting the resources in place to support the influx of immigrant pupils. Today I see some children at West Park learning English for the fist time. I really hope the resources are there now.

"I don't want the project to be purely a nostalgia exercise. I really hope we learn from it."

Marion Brennan

By Marion Brennan
@Marion_EStar

News and features reporter, specialising in human interest and local history stories.

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