Exhibitions

Vron Ware
13 Dead, Nothing Said

9 March - 27 May 2017

Goldsmiths University of London

London, UK

Free exhibition


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.

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Thousands of people gathered from many parts of the country. The demonstration assembled in Fordham Park in New Cross and, over the course of eight hours, made its way to Hyde Park.
As the marchers passed through the streets of south London, workers walked out of their offices to join in, and young people scaled the fences of their schools to take part. Despite police attempts to prevent them from crossing the river at Blackfriars, the demonstrators pressed on to take the protest to Fleet Street, the home of British newspapers.

A delegation headed by John La Rose delivered ‘The Declaration of New Cross’ to 10 Downing Street, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and the Houses of Parliament. Other prominent activists in the black community were present, including Linton Kwesi Johnson, Sybil Phoenix, Darcus Howe, Alex Pascall and Menelik Shabazz.

Vron Ware’s photographs document this historic occasion in vivid detail. While the images capture the defiant solidarity of the women and men taking part, they are supplemented by shocking evidence of the way it was subsequently reported by the Fleet Street press.

“Over 30 years later and hitherto unpublished, Vron Ware's defiant photographs offer insight into decisive moments of cultural resistance in post-war Britain's anti-fascist and community campaigning”
- Renée Mussai, Curator / Head of Archive

The following people lost their lives in the fire:
Humphrey Brown (b. 4 Jul 1962); Peter Campbell (b. 23 Feb 1962); Steve Collins (b. 2 May 1963); Patrick Cummings (b. 24 Sep 1964); Gerry Paul Francis (b. 21 Aug 1963); Andrew Gooding (b. 18 Feb 1966); Lloyd Hall (b. 29 Nov 1960); Lillian Rosalind Henry (b. 23 Aug 1964); Patricia Johnson (b. 16 May 1965); Glen Powell (b. 19 Jan 1965); Paul Ruddock (b. 19 Nov 1958); Yvonne Ruddock (b. 17 Jan 1965); Owen Wesley Thompson (b. 11 Sep 1964). A fourteenth person, Anthony Berbeck, caught up in the fire, was believed to have committed suicide following the trauma of the event, in July 1983.
 

The Declaration Of New Cross

Made at the New Cross Massacre Black People’s Day of Action On Monday, 2nd March, 1981.

1. On Sunday, 18th January, 1981 in an unparalleled act of savagery, thirteen (13) young people, aged fourteen (14) to twenty-two (22), were murdered at 439 New Cross Road, in the heart of London, capital city of Britain. They were attending a birthday party. They were black.

2. The national authorities in Parliament and Government, in a further act of barbarism, ignored the tragedy of the families of the dead and injured. But they sent messages of condolence to the fire victims in Ireland, for cynical reasons of state.

3. The authorities have ignored for three decades the pain, the rage and outrage of the black communities around the country at the racial murders, injuries and threats to our existence. Threats have come even from the highest authorities in the land.

4. The New Cross Massacre Black people’s Day of Action is another stage in the response of the black people and of our allies in the country to this savagery and this barbarism.

5. We warn the country and the world that there will be no social peace while blacks are attached, killed, injured and maimed with impunity on the streets or in our homes.

Address and opening times

Address:
Goldsmiths, University of London
Richard Hoggart Building, Kingsway Corridor
Dixon Road, London, SE14 6YZ

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Nearest stations: New Cross and New Cross Gate

Hours:
Monday - Saturday: 9am - 9pm
Sunday: 9am - 5pm

The building is fully accessible, with step-free acces to the exhibition. 

About Vron Ware

Best known for her scholarly work as an academic and writer, Vron Ware has also produced an important and little known body of documentary photography.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s she was actively involved in feminist, anti-racist and anti-fascist movements, documenting campaigns as a freelance photographer and working as editor for Searchlight magazine from 1981-1983.

Vron is currently professor of sociology and gender studies at Kingston University. Her books include Beyond the Pale: white women, racism & history (1992/2015); Out of Whiteness: colour, politics & culture (2002, with Les Back); Who Cares about Britishness? (2007) and Military Migrants: fighting for YOUR country (2012).

In partnership with

This exhibition is presented in partnership with Autograph ABP and the Department of Sociology, Goldsmiths.

About Goldsmiths:
Creativity has always been the hallmark of Goldsmiths. Academic excellence and imaginative course content combine to make a place where creative minds can thrive and ideas are allowed to grow.

Goldsmith's courses and research activities span the arts, humanities, social sciences, cultural studies, computing, business and management across 20 academic departments.

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As seen in:

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