Ware’s 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. Concerns about racism had been running high in the area due to the active presence of the National Front, and several racially motivated arson attacks had already taken place in the London borough of Lewisham.
In the face of a hostile media, seemingly 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 the government to acknowledge the tragedy. The New Cross Massacre Action Committee was set up and plans were made for a Day of Action on 2 March 1981… 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.
The Black People’s Day of Action represents a political and cultural turning point, with thousands of people coming together to protest against racist violence, the government’s lack of concern as well as the inadequacy and bias of the police investigation. Ware’s photographs document this historic occasion in vivid detail, capturing the defiant solidarity of the women and men taking part. Hitherto unpublished, the portfolio of images acquired were on display as in a dedicated solo exhibition entitled 13 Dead, Nothing Said at Goldsmiths, University of London from 9 March to 27 May 2017, presented in partnership with Autograph ABP.
Vron Ware’s 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).