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Moments in migration history

Birmingham has always been a City that has been leading innovations and ideas about how we live. The lunar society that met at Soho house were instrumental in the campaign to abolish slavery. Birmingham as a very diverse city has always tried to accommodate new ideas and people but that has not always been easy. Immigration continues to be a contentious political issue.

After the Second World War Britain needed to rebuild and repair and so needed people to do that. People were invited from the former British Empire to help restore the Mother Land specifically from the Caribbean to work in public transport and the newly formed NHS. The British Nationality Act was passed to make it easier for people to travel

However many people feared that this would mean there would not be jobs and particularly houses for the people already here. The tension grew and some political parties used this to stir up and exploit racial hatred with several significant racially motivated attacks including five days of rioting in August/September 1958. By 1962 a law was passed to only allow migrants that had pre-issued work vouchers into the country it was updated in 1968, prompting Enoch Powell to make his “Rivers of Blood Speech”. Enoch Powell delivered this infamous speech at the Midland Hotel in Birmingham on April 20th 1968 for a Conservative Association meeting. We have used an extract from the speech in the programme. The full text of the speech can be read here

Enoch Powell was Conservative MP for Wolverhampton South West. His speech warns of being overpowered by immigrants and led to his being sacked. He was expressing the specific views of one of his constituents and he was reflecting widely held feelings and is seen as an important defining moment in Race Relations.

Enoch Powell.
Author & Copyright holder: Allan Warren.

In Smethwick during the 1964 General Election a slogan which said “If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour” was used. It was suggested that the Conservative party used the slogan but the British movement, an extremist right wing organisation, claimed that is was them who put posters and stickers up.  However Peter Griffiths, the conservative politician that won the seat, did not condemn the phrase and was quoted as saying “I should think that is a manifestation of popular feeling. I would not condemn anyone who said that. Malcolm X visited Smethwick to show solidarity with Black and Asian people who had come to live there. Houses were bought by the White City Council to prevent immigrants moving in and only white people could rent houses in Marshall Street.

The BBC made a documentary called “Smethwick: A Straw in the Wind” about the 1964 General election in Smethwick and you can find out more about it here

Some Boarding houses had signs in the window saying No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs. Refusing to let rooms to people that were Irish, Black or had dogs. There is some discussion as to whether these really existed but some very similar appear in BBC footage from the 1960’s and many people claim to have seen them.

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