Remembering history to face the future: New Cross and Grenfell

Malcolm Ball, inspired by Steph Green’s Black Lives Matter blog, seeks to stress the continuity of black struggle in recent decades and the need for a collective determination ‘never to forget’.

Like everyone on the IDYW Steering Group, I’m still digesting/marinating Steph’s wonderful piece on critical dialogue and Black Lives Matter. It’s been an actual joy and pleasure to read and mull over, reminding us of the difficult and fragile conversations we have with each other and colleagues during, before and after engagement. These are the basis of our chats with young people, the explicit and open discussion of the uncomfortable, creative and fearful areas we all negotiate in our pursuit of understanding.

Please read, pass on and organise, take action and be in Struggle and Solidarity with each other in the endless and ongoing pursuit of Dignity, Equality, Liberty and Solidarity. which allows and enables us all to become who we need to be in a world of our choosing and creation.

Surely this is the core and purpose of our work with young people and their Communities.

Crucially it is this element , critical solidarity, that helps us on the long hard road to a better world. Hence when the bandwagon moves on and yet again tries to write these struggles and experiences out of history we must be on our collective guard.  


Thanks to Graham Turner

Let me give a particular example –  the dignity, resilience, solidarity and collectivity shown by the communities of Deptford/New Cross in their response across forty years to the New Cross Fire where 13 young black people were murdered by a fire bomb in their house party. The silence, denial and the blame heaped on the party attendees was the police and official response, unto this day. There has never been an official apology or acknowledgement of what happened. Hence the slogan: Thirteen Dead : Nothing Said!

For many, it seemed as though Black lives were not of importance. The decision to mobilise was borne of frustration with that notion. Many Black families felt the time had come to stop being compliant with a society that didn’t accept them. Only 50 people were expected, but hundreds turned up to a meeting on January 25, 1981, at the Moonshot Club in Lewisham, a Black youth centre, and decided to march in protest. The New Cross Massacre Action Committee was set up, led by the late Darcus Howe and John La Rose, which kickstarted plans for the day of action.

It’s vital to note the centrality  of the local communities’ collective solidarity, their desire not to  wallow in victimhood but to create a better future. This commitment remains symbolised by the historic Black Peoples Day of Action March, which took place on March 2, 1981.  

Thanks to Maria Carter, who was 14 at the time and a member of the Action Committee

Some 20,000 people marched across London to demand justice for the victims of the New Cross fire and insist that the establishment listen to the Black community. People came from as far as France to attend, and fleets of coaches descended into the capital from cities such as Birmingham and Manchester. Some 13 red banners bearing the names of the victims – mainly children – were carried by the crowds in addition to a coffin to be left at No.10. The demonstration stopped traffic on Blackfriars Bridge, brought Britain to a standstill and signalled a turning point in the movement for race equality. 

Let’s not allow this current creative, militant moment, Black Lives Matter, to be sidelined and erased from History. As a contribution to what will be an ongoing struggle, let’s commit to supporting the organisation of solidarity events calling for Justice on the 40th Anniversary of the tragedy and the inspiring protest to which it gave birth in January and March, 2021.

 Malcolm Ball

The italicised quotes are taken from Inside The 1981 New Cross Fire March That Brought Britain To A Standstill

We have witnessed a poignant expression of remembrance this last weekend with the third anniversary of the tragic Grenfell fire, to which Steph Green drew our attention in the piece. Black Lives Matter. This moving video recalls some of the remarkable young people lost in the inferno.

As we discuss with one another and young people it feels vital to focus on the social. political and economic injustice that underpins this global resurgence of the black struggle. Angela Davis, author of Women, Race and Class, who has spent five decades as an intellectual campaigning for racial justice thinks that perhaps something has changed; that white people are beginning to understand.

ANGELA DAVIS – iconic photo from fifty years ago

“We’ve never witnessed sustained demonstrations of this size that are so diverse,” says Davis. “So I think that is what is giving people a great deal of hope. Many people previously, in response to the slogan Black Lives Matter, asked: ‘But shouldn’t we really be saying all lives matter?’ They’re now finally getting it. That as long as black people continue to be treated in this way, as long as the violence of racism remains what it is, then no one is safe.”

We must beware being embroiled in a fake culture war fanned by the mainstream media around symbols and images, around the supposed censorship of old films, tv shows and books. This self-indulgent panic within our corporate institutions does not reflect any of the BLM’s fundamental demands around poverty, homelessness, unemployment, discrimination, racist incarceration and police violence.

The quote is taken from a Guardian interview –

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.