On March 2 1981 the UK witnessed the greatest mobilization of the black community on its soil in history. The demonstration, started by a few swelled to over 20,000 as black people left their offices, factories, schools, colleges and universities to participate in protest of the dismal police handling and investigation of a fire which tragically took the lives of 13 teenagers at a birthday celebration in New Cross, and at the appalling treatment of survivors. One of the traumatized survivors committed suicide months later.
The slogan: “13 dead, nothing said” highlighted the wall of silence which ensued and was made all the more poignant when two weeks after, the fire the Queen sent condolences to the people of Ireland where a similar tragedy had taken place but said nothing of the 13 black children born in her realm to parents brought up to believe England was their mother country.
Parents of the victims have yet to learn who was responsible. It was widely believed to be the work of a racist arsonist.
In commemoration of the New Cross Fire and as a lasting tribute to the 13 black teenagers whose lives were lost on January 18 1981, black community leaders have come together and called for a Black Peoples Day of Action.
It is part of a new drive to lay the foundation for an institution of one voice to deal with and address issues facing the black community today, such as gun and knife crime, high exclusion rates of black children and the fragmentation of black families.
The primary aim is to set out a template for future generations of black people living in the UK to follow, in hope that they will have a better and brighter tomorrow.
Under the slogan: Commemorate, Evaluate, Organise to Liberate, purpose of the Black People’s Day of Action is to connect the New Cross fire and the state’s response, with the threats facing young black people today.
The programme for the day is a gathering at Pagnell Street Community Centre, followed by a procession to JK Banqueting Hall, both in Lewisham, south London, where there will be a series of activities with keynote speakers.
The day will culminate with an evening event at the Lewisham Civic Suite, where Sybil Phoenix and Professor Gus John will be honoured. Both played pivotal roles in providing support for parents of children who died in the fire as well as standing up to the state when attempts were being made to shift blame for the fire to survivors.
The organisers hope that the black community will see the need for the planned day of action and will respond as they did in 1981.
Author: Winora Smith