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Anthony Abraham's time at Oxford University

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1 Anthony Abraham's time at Oxford University on Mon Jan 19, 2015 9:34 pm



He was excited and honoured to be part of such a prestigious institution. Looked forward to being there. Surprised, when he got there, that an institution of such high repute and with students of such high intellect/intelligence could be so arch conservative and so monochromatic in complexion and background.
Although knew, and had been told by me about racism in Britain, he was shocked at the level of prejudice/ignorance that still existed. Still, he had a great party time.
He himself was from a privileged and quite wealthy background, but tended to have fun playing on the perception of many that anyone from a Third World country was poor and needy. So, he often told the story that he and his family could only afford sardines for Sunday dinner.
He decided to take on the challenge and to try to modify the conservative nature and colour of the institution. Vowed to become president of the Oxford Union and fill it with Blacks. Even before Oxford, he was very concerned about racism,social justice and change. Although not supposed to engage in protests at the time of the visit of the SA ambassador, he was part of the protest against the South African regime at that time, and so was actually gated at the time of the debate with Malcolm X. Malcolm X, to show solidarity, went to his room every evening. It became a real "hang-out" for students who could air their views and listen to the ideas of Malcolm X.
2. President of the Oxford Union and the Visit of Malcolm X
His expectation and ambition was to bring some change in thinking to the students of and to the institution itself. How could he achieve his goal of having greater participation of Blacks and also influence the thinking about race and justice? The answer was become president of the Union.
At this time, there was much turmoil about racism in Britain and in the USA. Race and all that it involved were an integral part of the general elections in both countries. The Labour Party won in Britain and the Democrats in the USA. Martin Luther King, the Nation of Islam and Malcolm X were vocal in the USA. Nelson Mandela was arrested in South Africa.
3. Why Malcolm X to the Union?
Given all that was happening on the world stage, given what he hoped to do in changing perspectives and perceptions at Oxford, Anthony thought that Malcom X would be the person to help him achieve his goal.
o Anthony had closely followed the civil rights movement in the USA especially and the world in general, and he felt that Malcolm X was the person who best articulated what he was trying to achieve. Malcolm was vocal, articulate, a good debater, composed and unlikely to get rattled if the mood of the audience was confrontational.
o He had been travelling through the Middle East, Europe, Africa and he seemed to be moderating what was considered his extreme views on a militaristic approach to changing the status quo re race relations,
o Malcolm was no longer the spokesperson for the Nation of Islam, he had become an orthodox Muslim.
o Several universities in the USA were trying to get him to speak. It would be a coup if he came to Oxford.
o He would be a great draw, a challenge - those who hated him, those who liked him, those who just wanted to hear his views for their own enlightenment - all would be interested. Blacks would also want to come out to hear him as a proponent of their cause.
o It would also be a touch of irony for him, a so-called extremist, to defend a statement by Barry Goldwater, an arch conservative. The moot: "Extremism in the defense of Liberty is no vice; Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue."
4. What was the mood of the Union?
High energy and expectation whether for or against Malcolm X. During the debate, some boos, but many moments where he was applauded. At the end, a long period of applause so it appears to have gone well. Malcolm showed a sense of humour, was extremely logical, reasoned and unemotional despite the goadings of the speaker before him. In fact, turned his words against him.

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