It is now 42 years since the tragic suspected arson attack at the home of a West Indian family during a birthday party at 439 New Cross Road, South London on 18 January 1981. It resulted in the deaths of 13 young black persons, with 27 others seriously injured. To date, no charges have been made.
The George Padmore Institute (GPI) archive houses documents related to The New Cross Massacre Action Committee, which was set up within two days of the fire. The Committee, whose members included Roxy Harris, Leila Hassan, Darcus Howe, Alex Pascall and Irma La Rose, was chaired by John La Rose, one of the founders of the GPI. The activists offered immediate support to the victims’ families, with GPI Trustee psychiatrist Dr Aggrey Burke key in setting up counselling for all those affected.
A history of attacks on black people, including several incidents in the Lewisham, New Cross and Deptford areas, had fuelled suspicions about police methods of investigation and inherent racism. The Committee led protests at the mishandling of the police investigation into the fire. Just six weeks later, they organised the biggest protest by black people seen in Britain. The Black People’s Day of Action was organised on 2 March 1981,when an estimated 15-20,000 people under the banner of the New Cross Massacre Action Committee, marched through the streets of London, from 439 New Cross Road through the City and Central London to Hyde Park.
Visit the archive page for the link to the catalogue of the materials the GPI holds relating to the New Cross Massacre Action Committee as well as a thorough account of the activism of this pivotal organisation.
Visit our YouTube channel for a short film on the New Cross Massacre with first-hand accounts of the days following the fire by GPI trustees Roxy Harris and Linton Kwesi Johnson. Additional contributions about the impact this terrible event had on future generations are by playwright Rex Obano and poet Jay Bernard. Click here to view the film.