The deaths of young black people in London in 1981 during the New Road massacre, were the catalyst for some of the biggest anti-racist demonstrations in the United Kingdom. Today, 36 years later, an exhibition of unpublished photos recalls those days of protest.
Sunday 18th January 1981 is a painful memory for the black community in London. On that day, early in the afternoon, Yvonne Ruddock’s 16th birthday celebrations ended in tragedy.
A fire at 439, New Cross Road took the lives of 13 young black people who were celebrating her birthday and injured 27 others.
Two years later, one of the survivors increased the death toll to 14 by taking their own life.
In those days, racist attacks by the right wing extremist National Front were so much the norm that most looked to them to find the cause of the fire. Even the police, whose first theories pointed in their direction.
A week after the fire, and as a by-product of the media’s indifference to the tragedy, a group of activists met to look into the situation. This is how The New Cross Massacre Action Committee came to be created, an organisation which carried out massive demonstrations on the streets of London to demand justice.
2nd March 1981, a normal working day like any other for the rest of London’s population was made into Black People’s Day of Action, a day on which thousands of protesters demonstrated against racial violence and the complacent attitude of the police.
The group managed to cross London and to make themselves heard, workers joined the march and students showed their support.
The delegation which was lead by John La Rose delivered the New Cross Declaration to 10 Downing Street and then to Parliament and police stations.
Amongst the thousands of demonstrators, some say 15,000, was Vron Ware, an academic and photographer who documented the Black People’s Day of Action, which was one of the milestones of cultural resistance and community action in the United Kingdom.
While Vron Ware developed her career and became known as a feminist and anti-racist activist, her photographs remained unpublished ever since.
The valuable documentary is only now coming to light with the exhibition which is titled “13 Dead, Nothing Said”, which aims to bring justice to the young people aged between 14 and 22 who lost their lives in New Cross in a massacre which has never been resolved.
Date: Exhibit open from Monday to Sunday until 27th May. Location: Goldsmiths, University of London. Richard Hoggart Building, Kingsway Corridor, Dixon Road, London, SE14 6YZ. For more information click here.
Photos: Vron Ware – (Translated by Peter Savin)