Vron Ware: 13 Dead, Nothing Said

Goldsmiths, University of London, United Kingdom
09 Mar 2017 - 27 May 2017

Vron Ware, Black People's Day of Action, 2 March 1981

Vron Ware, Black People's Day of Action, 2 March 1981

Vron Ware’s photographs documenting the Black People’s Day of Action (1981) will be on public display for the first time in this free exhibition.

The images bear witness to an important moment of cultural resistance in post-war Britain’s history of community organising.

In the early hours of Sunday 18 January 1981, a fire at 439 New Cross Road resulted in the deaths of 13 young black Londoners as they were celebrating the 16th birthday of Yvonne Ruddock, one of the victims. One survivor committed suicide nearly two years later, bringing the official death count to 14.

Concerns about racism had been running high in the area due to the active presence of the National Front. Several racially motivated arson attacks had already taken place in the London borough of Lewisham. In that climate, it seemed likely that the tragedy had been caused by a firebomb – a theory advanced by the police in the early stages of their investigation.

In the face of a hostile media, indifferent to this tragic loss of young black lives, community activists called a meeting at the Moonshot Club on 25 January. Hundreds of people met to discuss the failure of Britain’s government to acknowledge the tragedy, as well as to protest against the inadequacy and bias of the police investigation. The New Cross Massacre Action Committee was set up and plans were made for a Day of Action on 2 March 1981. The decision was taken to demonstrate on a working day to maximise the impact on London.

The Black People’s Day of Action was a political and cultural turning point, with thousands of people coming together to protest against racist violence and police inaction.