29 August 2013

British students' first encounter with segregation in 1963

British students of today will no doubt be appalled to know that, by the end of our first year at university, my girlfriend and I had saved enough money from our grants to book tickets on a London to New York charter flight - for £50 return.

As it was a last minute decision to go, we hadn't much of a plan about what to do when we got there, other than to visit relations who had emigrated to North America in the early 1900s. We'd also been too late (and too short of cash) to buy the then amazing Greyhound Bus deal of unlimited travel for 99 days for  $99 - so we had little choice but to hitch-hike

An early stop was in Portsmouth, Virginia, to stay with my girlfriend's great uncle Willie. Then in his 80s, he had emigrated to the USA as a young man and had developed into a typical white Southerner, a first hint of which were the numerous Confederate flags arrayed both inside and outside his house.

We'd heard about racial segregation in the Southern states of America, but had no idea that it was practised so widely or to such an extreme extent. Three examples stood out from the many:

1. To get to a local swimming pool, much needed to survive in levels of humidity we'd never before experienced, we had to walk through an area populated by black Americans. Everyone at the pool was white, which Uncle Willie explained by telling us "they have their own pool else where."

2. One Sunday, we were taken to the local Baptist church, where every face was also white. "They have their own church elsewhere", explained Uncle Willie.

3. On another day, we went to Virginia Beach armed with details supplied by Uncle Willie of bus times for getting there and back. At Virginia Beach, the only people on the beach were white, also predictably explained by Uncle Willie: "They have their own beach further along the shore."

On the way back, we realised that there was actually an earlier bus home than the one that Uncle Willie had suggested. All the other passengers in it were black, and seemed vaguely surprised when we got in - and even more surprised when we headed for and sat in the back seat.

When we told Uncle Willie about our day out, he was furious, telling us that we'd taken the wrong bus. That one was for blacks only and we should have waited for the later one for whites. What's more, as whites, we should certainly not have sat anywhere near the back seat.

A lesson we quickly learnt was that it was quite impossible to argue rationally with Uncle Willie (or any other white Southerner we met). After all, everyone knew and accepted that  black people liked having their own swimming pools, churches, beaches and buses, and that the arrangements suited both blacks and whites.

Any comparison with South Africa was dismissed out of hand - not least because they didn't seem to know where it was, let alone about the kind of society the apartheid regime was running in those days (when many of us in the UK were already boycotting South African fruit and wine).

I now realise that it was only a matter of weeks before there would be a march on Washington where a black Baptist minister would be making a speech with a few relevant points about what we had just seen. Planning for the march must have been in full swing, but we never heard anyone make any mention of it.

Uncle Willie and his friends obviously had no plans for making the short journey to Washington in August, 1963 - and were no doubt greatly underwhelmed when Martin Luther King went banging on about having a dream.

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28 August 2013

Half of Martin Luther King's most famous speech used imagery

People who've been on my courses or read my books will know that I'm a keen advocate of using different types of imagery to get messages across effectively.

They've probably also heard me say that my favourite speech (of my lifetime, at least) was Martin Luther King's "I have a dream", delivered 50 years ago today.

I knew that he'd used a lot of powerful imagery but,  until today, I hadn't realised just how much of it there was. Nor was all of it biblical or religious: one of the most impressive sequences came early in the speech when he used what, at first sight, might have seemed like a rather unpromising extended banking metaphor (from para 6 below).

So I've lifted from the text all those passages featuring imagery - which make up almost exactly 50% of the speech - all of which appear in sequence below.

And if you're interested in coming to one of my courses on speechwriting and presentation, click HERE.


This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice.

It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.

One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.

One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land.

In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check.
When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.
This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned.
Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds."
But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt.
We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.
So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.
We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now.

This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.

Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice.

Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.

Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual

This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality.

The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice… Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.
We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline.

Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

We cannot walk alone.

As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.

We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities.

No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality.

You have been the veterans of creative suffering.

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

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20 August 2013

The party leaders' "drink tonight" test revisited

With the party conference season almost upon us, I've been asking people which one of the current party leaders would they select to go out for a drink with tonight (see also Wisdom of Forethought &
An important but elusive asset for British political party leaders)?

The news so far is that the batting order is clearly coming out as:

1. David Cameron
2. Nick Clegg
3. Ed Miliband.

13 August 2013

Should we worry that only 27% of England's cricket team went to state secondary schools?

On returning from holiday (and after quite a while of silence), I'm finally getting back to blogging - thanks to being bothered by a burning question about the composition of the England cricket team that's deprived Australia of the Ashes for a little while longer.

In the past, I've blogged about the problem of getting more non-public school boys into Oxbridge (HERE) and about my own failure in early teenage years to be noticed by the Yorkshire County Cricket Club (HERE).

Now, however, I realise that only three members (i.e. 27% - Anderson, Bresnan, Swann) of the England team that defeated Australia  yesterday went to state secondary schools.

All the rest, including those born in South Africa, went to independent schools.

So, although I've proposed what I believe to be a perfectly viable solution to the problem of how to open up Oxbridge admissions selection to more students from state schools, the problem of opening up selection to England's cricket team is not so easy -- other than to make sure, somehow or other, that more children in more state schools get the opportunity to play cricket.

But, with a Scot in charge of education, it's rather unlikely that Mr Gove will ever put cricket very high on his list of priorities...