Saturday, June 16th is the 100th birthday of Enoch Powell, the British statesman who is most famous for his “Rivers of Blood” speech on April 20, 1968, in which he warned, prophetically, of the dangers of massive non-white immigration into the United Kingdom.
Powell called for cutting off legal as well as illegal immigration and for repatriating non-white immigrants whose high birthrates would eventually lead them outnumber the native British. The day after his speech, Powell was sacked from his position as Edward Heath’s Shadow Defence Minister.
Enoch Powell was born in Birmingham, the only child of Albert Enoch Powell, a school teacher, and his wife Ellen. His paternal grandfather was a Welsh iron worker. His paternal great-grandfather was a coal miner.
Enoch Powell was an exceptional student, with a particular talent for languages. At the age of five, he began learning Ancient Greek from his mother, who had learned the language on her own. Powell knew a total of 12 languages, including his native English as well as Ancient Greek, Latin, German, Russian, Welsh, Hindi, Urdu, and Hebrew, and spoke eight of them fluently.
Powell went on to study classics at Trinity College, Cambridge. In his first year, he won all the classics prizes available to undergraduates, a unique achievement. In one of his examinations, he was given three hours to translate a passage into Greek. After an hour and a half, he handed in two translations: one in the style of Plato, the other in the style of Thucydides. He was awarded a double starred first in Latin and Greek, the best possible grade and extremely rare. In 1937, at the age of 25, he became full professor of Greek at Sydney University. (His idol Nietzsche was given a full professorship at Basel at the age of 24.)
When Britain started the Second World War, Powell resigned his professorship and returned to serve his country. Because of his intellect and language skills, he was commissioned and sent to the Intelligence Corps. Powell never saw combat — for which he felt considerable survivor’s guilt — but his services were highly valued. At the beginning of the war, Powell was the youngest professor in the Commonwealth. At war’s end, he was the youngest brigadier in the military.
During the war, Powell first conceived political ambitions. He hoped to become Viceroy of India, and learned Hindi and Urdu. Powell joined the Conservative Party after the war. He was Member of Parliament for Wolverhampton South West from 1950 to 1974 and then, after he had left the Conservative Party, Member of Parliament for South Down from 1974 to 1987. Under Harold Macmillan, he was Financial Secretary to the Treasury from 1957 to 1958 and Minister of Health from 1960 to 1964. He was Edward Heath’s Shadow Defence Minister from 1965 to 1968.
Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech simultaneously destroyed his career within the Conservative Party and made him Britain’s most admired politician. In a February 1969 Gallup poll, Powell was named the “most admired person” in British public opinion. A Daily Express poll in 1972 named Powell the most popular politician in the country. In 1974, Powell left the Conservative Party and urged people to cast their votes for Labour. In October of 1974, Powell was elected as Ulster Unionist Party MP for South Down. He retired from Parliament in 1987.
Enoch Powell authored, co-authored, translated, or edited more than 30 books, including the histories of Herodotus and Thucydides, volumes of original poetry, biblical studies, and many political works. Powell married once and fathered two daughters. As a young man, Powell was an atheist, but in his later years, he became a devout Anglican. Powell was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease when he was 80. He died in 1998 at the age of 85.
He never retreated from or apologized for his views about race and immigration.