the Black People’s Day of Action

To commemorate the 40th anniversary, Goldsmiths academics collaborated with community groups to organise a range of activities to engage the public with the history and legacy of the Black People’s Day of Action.

2 March 2021 marked the 40th anniversary of the historic ‘Black People’s Day of Action’ when an estimated 15,000 people from all over the UK marched in solidarity with the victims of the New Cross Fire and their families.

Described as ‘the largest black demonstration’ in British history, the Black People’s Day of Action march began in New Cross, filing past 439 New Cross Road, the site of the fire that led to the tragic deaths of 14 young people, towards Hyde Park via the Houses of Parliament and Fleet Street.

Organised by the New Cross Massacre Action Committee led by John La Rose and Darcus Howe, delegates delivered letters to then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, Scotland Yard and the Metropolitan Commissioner. According to organiser, John La Rose, the purpose of the demonstration was;

“To show the determination of the black population that they will not be killed, maimed or injured with impunity and that if the state would not protect its citizens then the black population and its allies in the country would.”

The reporting of the day’s events in The Sun newspaper was officially censured by then regulator the Press Council, who found that The Sun’s coverage was ‘damaging to good race relations’, the first ruling of its kind.

The Black People’s Day of Action was a pivotal turning point in the black community’s struggle for justice and civil rights in Britain.

The above account is based on extracts from ‘Longest Journey: A History of Black Lewisham’, by Professor Joan Anim-Addo.

The Black People’s Day of Action: A March for Justice

Exhibition, Catford Broadway Theatre, March – May 2021

This exhibition presented a body of photographs taken by academic and writer, Vron Ware, documenting the Black People’s Day of Action on 2 March 1981. The images bear witness to a historic moment of community organising and resistance in post-war Britain.

Prof Les Back
Department of Sociology

The projects

Discover what collaborations between academics, students and local Black-led organisations created to remember the New Cross Fire and the Black People’s Day of Action.

To find out about how the funded projects were chosen visit the Grants and Funding Public Engagement page.

Voices from the Black People’s Day of Action

Photography: Vron Ware, courtesy of Autograph ABP. ‘The Black People’s Day of Action 02.03.1981’ by Vron Ware is available to buy now.

Professor Les Back with Nacheal Catnott (True Colour Collective) and the George Padmore Institute (GPI)

Based on community responses to the 2017 exhibition 13 Dead Nothin Said, Les Back and Nacheal collaborated on a film centring the voices of those who attended and remember the Black People’s Day of Action. 

Filming in lockdown posed many challenges but with help from the George Padmore Institute, they recruited some fantastic interviewees and were also able to collaborate with Kalbir Shukra on her education project, making the videos produced available in the workshops.  Les and Nacheal also presented and showed the film at an inline event at the Garvey Village, a social enterprise that celebrates African Heritage based in Lewisham. 

New Cross Tragedy

Dr Richard Shannon with Decolonising The Archive (DTA)

Three workshops on writing for audio aimed at Lewisham’s black community were held online, involving writing and production exercises. The workshops prepared participants to enter an open competition to write a 30-minute audio piece for podcasting with one of the UK’s leading black writers, Roy Williams, chairing the judging panel.

The winning piece was ‘In the Mix’ by Bonsu Boaten and Nnenna Samson and a documentary, ‘From Resistance to Transcendence: Remembering The Black People’s Day of Action’ was also produced.

Respect the past. Create the future. The Bronze woman: the first public statue of a black woman in England, unveiled in Stockwell memorial gardens in 2008.

When We Were Young…
Now We Are Young

Dr Kalbir Shukra with the Lewisham Young Mayor’s Programme

The ‘When We Were Young…. Now We Are Young’ project provided a space for the co-creation and delivery of intergenerational workshops in collaboration with Lewisham Young Mayor Programme, supported by Goldsmiths students on placement.

The project was guided by a steering group of young people and adults from the local community who discussed how to remember both the New Cross Fire and Black People’s Day of Action, taking into account the challenges posed by COVID-19 restrictions. The steering group co-produced material for two workshops that the project team put together and piloted with Lewisham Young Advisors. The workshops explored protest and activism including Black Lives Matter, School Strike for Climate and United for Grenfell alongside its focus on Black People’s Day of Action as response to the New Cross Fire and included a film created by Les Back’s project foregrounding the memories of attendees to Black People’s Day of Action.

The online workshops were delivered to Lewisham Young Advisors, schools, voluntary sector organisations, a Goldsmiths widening participation event and a schools summit, where the 2021 Young Mayor of Lewisham election campaign was launched. They continue to facilitate discussions with young people in schools as well as being incorporated as part of London Borough of Culture 2022.

Black People’s Day of Action Scan-Athon

Dr Janna Graham and Dr Jorella Andrews with the Deptford People’s Heritage Museum

An online public event, ‘The New Cross Fire Collection at the Deptford People’s Heritage Museum: Reflection and Planning’ held on Saturday 27 March 2021, invited members from the community and other stakeholders invested in the histories and possible futures of the local area more broadly, to share their thoughts about what a New Cross Fire Collection at the Deptford People’s History Museum might look like and what its aims and values should be.

Researchers Ken Thomas and Joshua Jackson-Fenwick were interviewed by our facilitator, community development worker and radio presenter Tracey Jarrett about their work on the New Cross Fire Project and their thoughts regarding a DPHM New Cross Fire Collection. Then, in order to deepen discussion, Jorella Andrews facilitated a workshop called ‘How can objects and images help us reflect, share and educate?’. This replaced the scan-a-thon which, due to Covid-19 restrictions we were unable to run. Participants were asked to bring an object or image to the zoom event that they felt created particular links, for them, with the New Cross Fire/Black People’s Day of Action and its legacies and at the end of the workshop to share their insights. The event was recorded to form part of the DPHM’s archive of research materials.

Remembering the Black People’s Day of Action: Oral History Workshops

Department of History (Dr Hannah Elias et al) and the George Padmore Institute (GPI)

A series of oral history workshops focusing on remembering the New Cross Fire and Black People’s Day of Action are in production with the aim of gathering memories of lived experience to preserve them for future generations. Some of the recordings will form part of a free digital resource that can be used by teachers, students and researchers.

If you’re interested in learning more about the project or want to get involved contact Hannah on


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