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Transcript of From Lincoln to Obama: a look at the progress of civil rights

As of the US Black History Month events at the International Slavery Museum in February 2009, a panel discussed the development of civil rights in a local, national and international context.

Dr David Fleming, director of National Museums Liverpool introduced the speakers Richard LeBaron, Chargé d'Affaires at the United States Embassy in London, Wally Brown CBE, former Principal of Liverpool Community College and Simon Woolley, the national co-ordinator of Operation Black Vote in the UK.

David Fleming: I'm here very briefly to introduce Richard LeBaron, who is our first speaker. I have some notes here about him which I find very interesting. He' s served at the United States Embassy in London since August 16th 2007, became Chargé d'Affaires ad interim upon the departure of Ambassador Robert Tuttle on February 6th, that's just a few days ago, 2009. Of couse we know Bob Tuttle very well here and he was one of our staunch supporters in terms of advocating the International Slavery Museum internationally. So we were sorry to see him go and look forward to his replacement.

Previous to his assignment in London, Richard served as the US Ambassador to Kuwait, in 2001 to 2004, he was deputy chief of mission at the Embassy of the USA in Tel Aviv, Israel, and was minister counsellor for political and economic affairs at the Embassy of the US in Cairo, Egypt from 1998 to 2001. So he has an interesting [career] and, Richard, that sounds like quite a challenge in representing the US in some political hotspots. While posted in Washington from 1991 to 98 Richard served in three positions related to the Middle East. His previous overseas diplomatic postings have included Lisbon, Tunis, New Dehli and Managua. He's going to speak to us today on the subject of US civil rights development from Lincoln to Obama. So Richard, over to you, thank you.

[Applause]

Richard LeBaron: It is an honour to be with you today here at the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool. I want to thank Dr Richard Benjamin for inviting me to speak and I want to thank the museum for hosting this special event commemorating Black History Month in the United States. This is my first visit and not my last. I'm not planning on giving lots of speeches. I'm mainly interested in listening to what you have to say about this important city in whose history many of my countrymen have shared.

Black History Month occurs in February every year in the US, but this year is truly historic. Not only does it mark the two-hundredth anniversary of the birth Abraham Lincoln, the president who ended slavery in America, it is the first year that the highest office in the United States is held by an African-American, President Barack Hussein Obama.

To understand the significance of President Obama's election, and how much the United States has changed, it is not necessary to travel back to Lincoln's time. It suffices to go back to the 1950s. Sixty years ago, an African-American could not be served in many of the restaurants of Washington, DC. Today, an African-American leads the country.

I can think of no better place in Britain then Liverpool to reflect on President Obama's election and what it means for the progress of civil rights. The International Slavery Museum, as David Fleming, the director of National Museums Liverpool noted, does more than tell the story of a shameful area in our shared history. It reminds us of the enduring effects slavery has had on the world.

We struggle with this heritage to this day in the United States. True, we have broken a very important barrier with the election of President Obama. But we must be mindful of prejudice and inequality which still challenge American society. By shining the light of honest scholarship and frank discussion on our past, as this museum does, we can better understand and overcome these evils which diminish us as nations and keep us from fully attaining our national ideals.

Speaking of idealism, I'd like to recall briefly the catalytic role the United Kingdom played in the world-wide movement to abolish slavery. The first organised opposition to the slave trade began with the Quakers in 1783 when the London Society of Friends presented a petition against the slave trade to parliament signed by over 300 Quakers. Because Quakers were barred from standing in Parliament, on May 22 1787, six Quaker activists joined with three Anglicans to form the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade.

Britain outlawed the slave trade in 1807 and abolished slavery throughout the empire in 1833. Public opinion against the slave trade was shaped by many activists. The autobiography of Olaudah Equiano, a former slave, awakened Parliament to the horrors of slavery. Josiah Wedgwood, the English potter who founded the world famous Wedgwood pottery firm, helped humanise the plight of Africans by producing a medallion of a slave in shackles with the legend, "Am I not a man and a brother?"

Britain fought international slavery. The Royal Navy is credited with seizing 1,600 slave ships and freeing 150,000 Africans. The belief in the fundamental immorality of trafficking in persons lives on today in the United Kingdom's active role - in cooperation with the United States - in combating the scourge of human trafficking around the world.

Liverpool was at the heart of these early struggles, just as it has played a central role in the UK's relationship with the United States. The Museum of Slavery is a testament to Liverpool's role between 1700 and 1800 as an important centre of the slave trade, part of a triangle between Africa, Britain and the Americas. Later, Liverpool's port was at the centre of the maritime traffic of the industrial revolution. Similarly, Liverpool was the primary destination for vital Lend-Lease shipments from the US to the UK in the early days of World War Two, and later saw the arrival of a flood of American soldiers.

During the founding of the United States, the Liverpool-born merchant Robert Morris emigrated to the American colonies and ended up overseeing the financing of the American War of Independence. Morris was also a signatory of the US Constitution, and earlier, the American Declaration of Independence, the second line of which reads:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

This was the crux of the matter then, and remains so today. Compare these lines with the following:

"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."

This simple sentence, the introduction to the Gettysburg Address, represents the genius of Lincoln. With these lines, he took a moment of supreme crisis in the United States and used it to redefine the meaning of our founding. As you know, our Bill of Rights - the first ten amendments of the US Constitution - guaranteed the civil liberties of free men in America, but left out more than half a million African-American slaves.

It was Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation that began the process of ending slavery's exclusion on January 1 1863. With the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln ensured that out of our terrible Civil War would come a union devoted to this ideal. I believe his legacy is most alive in our continuous search for freedom, equality and opportunity. Striving to secure for all Americans these unalienable rights has been the ongoing struggle of the civil liberties and civil rights movement.

Lincoln was a lifelong opponent of slavery, saying, "If slavery is not wrong, then nothing is wrong." It is no surprise then that he felt his most enduring achievement was the Emancipation Proclamation. He was also instrumental to the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to our Constitution, which officially abolished slavery throughout the United States.

While the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment extended liberty to America's African-American population, they weren't enough. In response to local legislation designed to restrict the freedom of former slaves, the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments were passed, which sought to guarantee the rights of former slaves by affirming their citizenship and barring voter discrimination based on race or former status as a slave.

However, by the end of the 19th century, these gains had been lost on the ground. Law and violence were used to enforce what in the South became known as the 'Jim Crow' system of legalised segregation, which called for separate facilities and institutions for whites and African-Americans.

The states defended the laws under the claim that they were creating separate but equal facilities for Blacks and whites. In reality, they were anything but equal. Jim Crow laws ensured that African-Americans in the South had to use dilapidated restrooms, were banned from eating in the same restaurants as whites, and received inferior public education.

These laws began to unravel in 1954, the year the US Supreme Court ruled Brown versus the Board of Education of Topeka that segregation was inherently unconstitutional. Since the school system provided to African-American children under Jim Crow were inferior, the Court ruled that the state had failed to provide equal schools, and therefore failed to provide equal protection. The equal protection clause has been used extensively since then to extend civil liberties to other Americans who have faced discrimination.

Brown versus the Board of Education inspired Americans to engage in civil disobedience to stop segregation and voter suppression. Under the leadership of such courageous figures as Dr Martin Luther King Jr, thousands participated in boycotts, staged 'sit-ins' in segregated restaurants, and participated in marches. The Montgomery Alabama bus boycott demonstrated the power an organised African-American community could wield. The sit-ins and marches - broadcast across the nation via television - focused the nation's attention on the inequities faced by African Americans and shone a light on the brutality with which state and local authorities often responded. Many Americans were sickened and outraged at scenes of peaceful protestors being beaten with sticks or sprayed with firehouses or attacked by police dogs.

As America recoiled at the inequality, intolerance and prejudice on display, our government acted to finish the work Lincoln had begun. Important legislative achievements included the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which banned discrimination in employment practices and public accommodations; the Voting Rights Act of 1965, that restored and protected voting rights; the Immigration and Nationality Services Act of 1965, that dramatically opened entry to the US to immigrants other than traditional European groups; and the Civil Rights Act of 1968, that banned discrimination in the sale or rental of housing.

America today is a land of opportunity for all. Today the chance for every American to fully participate in the American dream is greater then it was sixty years ago, or even ten years ago. As I said earlier, there is still work to be done. Indeed, the first piece of legislation signed by President Obama was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, designed to ensure that women receive equal pay for equal work.

I am confident that we will continue to make progress towards the ideals Lincoln stood for. When you look across my country today - in schools, in offices, in the courts, in government service, in the media - you see the truer, more diverse face of the American people. And we are better for it.

As President Obama said during his inauguration:

"We know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness... We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself."

[Applause]

David Fleming: Thank you very much for that Richard. Now at this point we were going to hear from Simon Woolley on civil rights development in the UK but we understand Simon's on a train, so we're expecting him any time now. Wally Brown has kindly offered to come forward in the agenda. Wally is a Liverpool institution himself, he's been in charge of a very important institution, Liverpool Community College since November 1991. Wally, correct me if I'm wrong but you did retire recently did you not? Its been a subject of great debate within National Museums Liverpool. Anyway, Wally's been around a long time and he'll be known to many people here today. Prior to his appointment at Liverpool, Wally spent two years at the London borough of Lambeth as head of the community education service and the previous eight years was spent managing adult education in a Manchester college. Wally was born in Toxteth, Liverpool, and entered the education sector in the mid 1970s working the voluntary sector in Toxteth. Prior to coming into the education sector Wally spent sixteen years in the engineering industry. Now it's a bit unfair on Wally as he was actually going to offer a commentary on what Richard and Simon had to say, so take it away, Wally. He'll probably extemporise and then we'll see if Simon appears. OK, thank you Wally.

Wally Brown: Thank you David. I was going to try and pitch in behind Simon and Richard but really what I want to say is the roots of Liverpool and the USA are strong, clearly from slavery. We know that Liverpool was a major player in the slave trade and local historians have all portrayed that history but we know Liverpool was a major player. You only have to walk a five minute walk from here to Martin's Bank and you will see within the walls carvings of Black faces to show how the wealth of that bank was delivered from the slave trade. Clearly we know that many streets in Liverpool, even in Toxteth where the Black community has its roots, are named after slavers. So Liverpool has a strong link with the slave trade.

We also know that Liverpool played a major part in the Civil War in America. Ships were actually built in Cammell Lairds here to support the Confederates in the Civil War. One famous ship the Alabama claimed much destruction in that war. So Liverpool has played a major, major role in history with the United States. And of course many Black families in this city can trace their roots back to slavery. So there's a strong history there between Liverpool and the United States.

In the short time I have I wanted to cover a more contemporary period of civil rights in this country and certainly in Liverpool because we tend to feel in this country that 1958 was the beginning of Black immigration and the start of riots. Wrong. Because in this city we go back to slavery, but if you take a period from the mid 1850s there has been civil struggle in this city from its Black residents long before Black immigration was ever an issue within this country. And Liverpool, Cardiff, Bristol, Hull all have similar history in relation to those struggles.

The struggles within Liverpool, in a sense, had gone unnoticed. The Liverpool Black community has its routes in West African seamen who came to Liverpool in the 1850s serving on ships from West Africa and settled and married local women. Another point to remember is Obama as a mixed heritage man is now the president of the United States. Liverpool has the largest mixed heritage community in Britain and you see in the news report last week, it now being quoted that 50% of people in this country are mixed heritage. Liverpool has the largest mixed heritage community and certainly the struggles in Liverpool prior to 1958, if the government had taken more notice of what was taking place there, we may well have had different rules in the 1950s in the way we deal with race and discrimination.

I want to pick up some key dates The first one is 1919, the end of the First World War. We know that there were major uprisings, major rioting in Liverpool in 1919 after the war when British soldiers came back into Liverpool and were concerned about their own circumstances and made many attacks on the Black community. If you look at the situation round that time you'll find that many Black families were attacked. We know that in Liverpool Charles Wooton was murdered at that time. We also know that the government, in trying to sort out that civil unrest, tried to deport West Africans back to Africa. A ship was commissioned, the Tenga, that was to take Africans back. Despite the fact that those people had families in Liverpool, the solution was to deport them. That ship left Liverpool, it went to Cardiff and from Cardiff it was supposed to go to Africa. Many people who boarded the ship in Liverpool actually got off at Cardiff and went back.

The 1930s saw a very interesting report, the Fletcher report, which was loofing at the circumstances in relation to Black families in Liverpool. It was a very damning report about the family structures in Black communities. It was a report commissioned by a group called the Welfare of Half Casts. In fact Liverpool University has a building called the Roxby building. Professor Roxby was the chair of this particular group who set up that report. A very damning report in relation to Black families but later it was deemed to be false because [indistinct] Jones the well known historian did some further work and dispelled some of the things that came out of that report.

1948, again after a war, after the Second World War this time, further riots in Liverpool. This time it was because of returning Black soldiers and the American GIs. Richard mentioned the Americans but of course Burtonwood base in Warrington was very close to Liverpool and many Black GIs used to come into Liverpool, into Toxteth and socialise during the war period and afterwards. There were issues again because the Rialto ballroom, which was one of the premier ballrooms in Liverpool at the time, wouldn't allow Black people access, despite the fact that it was in the middle of Toxteth. So the combination of Black GIs trying to get access to this dancehall, West Indians who'd been involved in the war who had come back and also Black Liverpudlians, I think that was one of the causes of problems in terms of people not feeling they were being treated properly despite the fact that they had given their life to their country.

So again there were issues and struggles in 1948. And of course the other link with the States, linking to the GIs, was, we've all heard the term 'Cunard Yanks'. Because of the Cunard shipping line here many Liverpudlians, mainly white, who were stewards on the ships used to go back and forwards to the States. One of the reasons why Liverpool's heritage is so linked to America is because of the artefacts and clothes that those people brought back from the States who were working the ships between the 1940s and 50s. There was a film recently of the life of Cunard Yanks, and some of those men are still around today.

But you must remember, I'm talking about 1948, all these things in Liverpool were happening before there'd been any Black immigration into this country. In 1958 we tend to see the Windrush as the start of Black immigration but the things that I've spoken about had happened before that. The Black community in Liverpool was actually trying to survive with no race relations law, remember the first race relations law in this country was in 1965, so this means communities were facing discrimination and harrasment with no support from authorities in terms of any laws. That I think, if you put your mind back to that, it's quite intriguing that, I'm in my 60s now, the generation before me who lived in this city had to struggle with no protection from any laws and some of the hardships families faced were tremendous.

So we move on now to 1981, and most people remember 81 was the Toxteth riots and riots in Brixton. Again people, mainly young people, demonstrated against the oppression they felt was taking place from within the city and the country in general. There's struggle there which in the short time I've got I'm not able to go into depth about but the point I'm tryimng to make really is the strong links to the States. When I was a youth worker with young people and we were looking at models to try and give people strength, the models we looked at were in America. The models were Malcolm X, the Black Power movement in America. Young people would copy what they saw in America and would see those Americans who were fighting the struggle in the States as fighting the same struggle as they were. There were no parallels in this city or country to look at, the parallels were across in the States.

But of course today, looking around the room, it's a very different complexion we have. Richard's spoken about the journey the Americans have taken and it is phenomenal to think that they now have a Black president in the States. In this country things are not perfect but I can remember when I was a young person I would play out and if a Black face came on the television you ran in the house to see. When Brazil played England at football everything stopped because you saw Black people playing football. Now there's more Black football players than there are white football players and they tend to be the best as well should I say [laughter]. But there were at last changes. I remember Shirley Bassey was one of the first Black singers on the television, we'd all stop everything and watch Shirley Bassey and the American programmes to watch the Black singers in America.

Today it's different. You turn the television on today and there's Black faces on the television, the newscasters, they're entertainers, they're footballers, so there's been a big change in many ways in terms of what we see. But we must remember the people who struggled, Obama himself would be sure to admit that he's there because of the struggles of those who went before. And I think when we look at whats happened in this country, we need to be grateful for those who struggled in the past, and many of those people who struggled were in this city.

As I said before, Liverpool has got one of the largest mixed heritage populations in the UK by far. That's why when Obama was being made president we all went in Toxteth to the Kuumba Imani Centre and you couldn't get a seat. The place was packed because people there were seeing this in a sense, not only for Black people but for people of mixed race, was to show that yes, given what we've come through, there's one of our people who is the head of one of the most powerful nations in the world. The parallels are there and we should not forget the struggles of those who've gone before, but we should rejoice in what I feel should be a much much more positive future. Thank you.

[Applause]

David Fleming: Thanks very much Wally. Well as some of you will have noticed, Simon sneaked in there while Wally was speaking. Simon is the founder and national co-ordinator of Operation Black Vote. He's helped to guide the project from an idea into an influential national organisation. He writes and comments extensively for the national Black press and media. He's a board member of the String of Pearls Festival, chair of the Black Londoners forum, he's a member of the National Black Caucus and the Black Jewish Forum. So we'll hear from Simon now and then we'll move on to questions. Simon, thank you very much.

[Applause]

Simon Woolley: Good afternoon everyone and may I first apologise for 'sneaking in' [laughter]. I had the journey from hell but I arrived, that's the main thing isn't it? I'm sure that you've had an interesting talk, I've just caught the latter part of Wally's story, perjhaps Wally's journey in terms of how the world has shaped him, how he has shaped the world. I guess in many respects that's one of the reasons why we're here today. In America during the month of February, as you've probably been told, it's Black History Month. I guess here in this building which houses such a great history it's a fitting place to have this discussion. I don't normally write a speech, I try and get a feel for the audience and the space that I'm in and talk, hopefully, from the heart and see what comes out.

When I was coming up on the train I was beginning to think about what I may say and the first line I thought about was 'Sometimes you win when you lose', which might be a difficult concept to get your head around. That was brought to my attention just the other week whilst watching with my son 'Cars', the Walt Disney film. Lightning McQueen, he's the hero of the cartoon is going around the Nascar track, I'm sure Mark [indicating the Assistant Cultural Attaché from the US Embassy in London, Mark Lanning] is aware of Nascar racing, clearly inferior to Formula One and Lewis Hamilton [laughter]. But anyway, Lightning McQueen is coming round the track to win his first race and he comes right up to the line and then stops and lets his arch enemy cross the line first. He does so because one of the other drivers has been barged off the track, and he goes back and nudges this other car to cross the line. He loses and yet he's the hero of the film because he did the right thing. It wasn't just about winning at any price.

I aslo learnt that lesson from a man that was here just a few months ago, Reverend Jesse Jackson. He was in Liverpool with my organisation, Operation Black Vote. I assume most of you will have heard of Reverend Jesse Jackson. He was the man on the balcony with Dr Martin Luther King when he was shot dead. If you see those pictures, Jesse Jackson's the tall man pointing to where the gunman fired the shot. Two days before he was shot, Martin Luther King spoke to a congregation and said:

"I have climbed up to the top of the hill and I have seen the promised land"

And then prophetically he said to the audience:

"I may not get there with you but I have seen the promised land".

Two days later he was shot dead. Dr King handed the baton to Jesse Jackson who took the baton to run. And he did run. He ran in 1984 and 1988. I don't know whether some of our older members of teh audience remember Jesse Jackson when he ran in 1984 particularly but also 1988, the guy was a superstar. In fact some may say that he had more charisma than Barack Obama. He was just terrific, he was clearly, unbelievably the best presidential candidate. When he spoke the roof rose, people got excited, people got emotional as never before. This was a tornado of a candidate.

And yet I'm sure he knew deep in his heart that America wasn't ready for a Black president. I'm sure some peopel would have said to him 'Listen Reverend, it's best you don't run because you can't win'. But Jackson knew that sometimes even if you lose, you win. When he ran in 1984 he inspired a Black nation to stand up and be politically counted, registered to vote, get involved in the democratic process as agents for for. In 1984 [sic 1988] that increased again. This was a man who for all his energy, for all his talent, the White House was his destiny, what he was born to do - to lead a nation. And yet his people were not ready for an African American to be president.

And yet because of him, because he was prepared to lose, if you listen to Barack Obama he paved the way for the first African American president. He told that story here in Liverpool - if any of you have heard him, he loves Liverpool, he loves your city. When he was in the Council chamber just down the road he said that anybody who comes to the UK must visit Liverpool. Anybody who comes to Liverpool must visit this building, the Slavery Museum, because here in this building, and he almost had tears in his eyes, he said you see the best and the worst of humanity. The worst of what humanity can do in terms of shackling another human being, treating another human being as a beast of burden, stripping their dignity, stripping their humanity. And the best, of course, the survival of the spirit.

It was Jackson that taught me, and I'm almost ashamed to admit it, that when you go to the third floor and you see the museum, the people that you see in those pictures for me and for every Black person in this room, they were not slaves. They were our family who were enslaved. When you use that articulation they don't become dehumanised. They are a people with soul who were brutalised by slavery and yet survived. So the journey continues, that survival, that strength of spirit continues.

So in 2008, November 4th, history was made. We'd come throught that whole journey; slavery, colonialism, Jim Crow, extreme racism, the 1981 riots as Wally mentioned here, the dehumanisation on a modern scale of Black people. And yet on November 4th that spirit survived.

I'll tell you another little story which shames me too and I guess it's the condition of what some describe as the slave colonial mentality. That is if somebody said to me 'Listen Simon, you see yourself as an activist, a warrior for racial and social justice, fighting the good cause', I put my hand up to that. But if someone said to me two years ago, 'Look, here's the deal. Here's a piece of paper right here. If you sign on the dotted line I will guiarrantee you, no questions asked, that Barack Husseim Obama will be the vice president, will you sign?' Of course in my heart I wanted him to be president but the shackling of my own aspirations would have signed the paper to accept history in the making, Barack Obama as vice president and Hillary as president.

So what happened then? What happened on November 4th 2008? For people like me, for people like Wally, for many Black people across the world as a matter of fact, a liberating moment happened. We were liberated from settling for second best, from believing that we cannot achieve the highest office. All of a sudden in that one historic moment everything was possible. Of course there's a reality check. We don't live in a fair society. There will be obstacles if you're a woman, if you're a Black man or woman, they'll persist. And yet with hard work and endeavour, with a supreme self belief we can overcome these obstacles.

So as in Wally's era, and mine, although Wally's got more grey hairs than me [laughter], where we were happy to see Muhammad Ali, we were happy to see Pelé, Shirley Bassey, because we saw so few positive role models that we'd grasp at our entertainers. I don't think people really understood what those elements do to the psyche of a human being. I try to explain to people how the deluge of negative images grinds you down, it's difficult to explain.

The only way I can even begin to explain it is by articulating the experiment that occured in the 1950s and then occured some 50 years later. Six Black girls, six years of age, were given a Black doll and a white doll. Now bearing in mind, at six you don't read the newspapers, you don't go to university. Your view of the world is very basic, not pure but it's not diluted as when you get older. So they asked the six girls 'Which is the good doll, which is the bad doll?' All of them said the good doll was white, the Black doll was bad.

Well you could argue, Jim Crow era, wretched racism, surely things would have changed some 50 years later. Now we've got Jay-Z, Beyoncé, all the big African American names in high places, surely things have changed. The good doll and the Black doll, the same six Black children. 90% of them chose once again the white doll as the good doll, the Black doll as the bad doll. When the researchers asked 'Which one is you?' they reluctantly, shamefully pointed at the Black doll. So that happens in 2007 in America to six year olds. How is it for grown ups, how do they feel about themselves?

November 4th 2008, those dynamics, that process begins to change. In one week in November for many people the world changed. On the Sunday before November 4th can anybody guess what happened before Barack Obama's election victory? Something quite dramatic, I did mention it before, Formula One [laughter]. The last race, the last corner after the wretched rabid racists in Spain were shouting that this young Black man, fearless driver, should crash his car and kill his dad, they said. When he would go to Brazil, supposedly the melting pot, 100,000 partisan fans, mostly of the whiter shade, jeerng at this young Black man to crash his car. He won. He became not only the youngest driver to win the world championship but against all the odds to take the crown. That was on the Sunday and it was a good start to the week. That young man and his proud dad.

Then some days later we were all in London, we hired a nightclub in the West End for 500 people, we stayed there until 4am. Even then all the papers had said 'Obama will win' but I tell you, at 3 o'clock it wasn't clear. We though we cannot count our chickens, we cannot open the bottle of champagne because we have been so close before and it never happened. Then at 4 o'clock there wasa deluge, it happened all at once.

So the world changed. The first Black Formula One driver and the most powerful man in the world. Now I can sit my son, three years old, I know, I started late, better late than never [laughter]. I can sit my son on my knee, point at the TV and say 'Who's that son?' 'That's Barack Obama, Pappa, the most powerful man in the world', he says straight after. After 150 times of me telling him, he knows [laughter]. So for his little mind the way that he sees himself and sees the world has now dramatically changed. Now we can begin the process of him beginning to fulfill his potential without feeling any shame about the hue of his skin.

I am absolutely thrilled that you've come here today because you didn't need to. You could be shopping at Matalan looking for a bargain [laughter]. But it seems to me that it's people like you that care about social and racial justice and that have come here and listen to our stories, Wally's story closer to home. I keep saying, I've been saying for the past year and a half, that the way I see people like yourself, Black and white, young and old, is part of the UK's Barack Obama generation. A generation that will say to our children that with hard work and endeavour and self belief you can be whatever you want to be. A generation that says we need to nurture the next generation of Liverpool's leaders that will stand in the Chamber and say I'm here not because I feel I'm better than anybody else but because I want to be a good public servant and serve all our communities here in Liverpool.

I'm proud as an activist to say that Liverpool City Council have asked my organisation to be here, we've been here for overa year now, to ensure that your local government looks more like the city it seeks to serve. At the moment there's only one Black councillor, Anna Rothery who was nurtured from our scheme.We hope there will be more. But I promise you, I will keep coming back to Liverpool as long as it takes and I promise you this too that if I ever get the ear of Barack Obama I will tell him to come to Liverpool too. I will say that it's his journey, his understanding of Britain to come Liverpool, to see its history, to speak to its people, to ensure that the Barack Obama generation takes root here and inspires the rest of the UK. Thank you all very much.

[Applause]

David Fleming: Thank you very much for that Simon. Indeed, thanks to Richard, Wally and Simon. Just a couple of thoughts arising out of that. You wont be surprised to know how proud we are that Reverend Jesse Jackson is a patron of the International Slavery Museum, he's visited twice now.

In terms of survival of the spirit, one of the things that we are going to do at 2.30 is to unveil three more of the Black Achievers plaques, three African Americans so it's appropriate that this should be the US Black History Month that we're doing that. They are of Fannie Lou Hamer, the voting rights activist and civil rights leader who many of you will know about, Dr Mae Carol Jemison who was the first African American woman to go into space and of course Barack Hussein Obama, who you've heard about plenty and we may hear a little bit more about now. You'll also be interested to know that this very day we've sent the letter off to Barack Obama inviting him to come to Liverpool and visit the International Slavery Museum [applause].