From Birmingham to Birmingham: Articulations of “Whiteness” and Citizenship by U.S. and British Politicians

After witnessing the ongoing civil rights battles in the United States during his November 1967 tour, British Parliament member Enoch Powell declared, “Integration of races of totally disparate origins and culture is one of the great myths of our time.” Within six months, his April 1968 “Rivers of Blood” speech, strikingly similar to American politician George Wallace’s emotive style, echoed Powell’s deep fears that the increasingly multi-racial Britain would erupt into bitter racial battles—fears worsened by his U.S. visit.  Amazingly, just as when Alabaman Governor George Wallace delivered his 1963 “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door” speech, Powell forged a large, national constituency among his nation’s white working class.

The relationship between Powell and Wallace reflects a multinational, racio-political history—one of both connection and indirect interaction between two nations in profound social transition during the 1960s.  This paper argues that federal policy moves to deconstruct the remaining vestiges of racial empires in the US and Britain spawned transnational occurrences of white backlash that George Wallace and Enoch Powell exacerbated and exploited through their angry, race-based rhetoric.  Irritating racial sensitivities developed over centuries of national existences as imperial and plantation nations, both Powell and Wallace used race (directly or indirectly) to articulate—in popularly-accessible terms—challenge to liberal government values and align themselves with rising national moves to the political Right.  Major newspapers and the leaders’ speeches are the primary sources used in this research.