Community projects mark Black People’s Day of Action anniversary

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Goldsmiths, University of London’s public engagement programme has funded a series of projects for 2021 which will explore the past and present of Lewisham’s black community.

Image shows a black and white poster giving the time, date and location for the 1981 Black People's Day of Action

A poster for the 1981 Black People's Day of Action, displayed at the '13 Dead, Nothing Said' commemorative exhibition at Goldsmiths in 2017

Collaborations between Goldsmiths staff and students and London’s archives, museums, schools, campaigners and artists were proposed this year to mark the 40th anniversary of the Black People’s Day of Action, which took place after the New Cross Fire. 

The New Cross Fire of 18 January 1981 was a suspected racially-motivated arson attack at a house party which led to the deaths of 14 young people. No one was charged in connection with the attack and, six weeks later, thousands of people marched to demonstrate against racism and police failings. 

Six grants of £1,000 have been made available to support Goldsmiths proposals which have been developed with local organisations or community groups and foreground black voices. 

Dr Kalbir Shukra (Department of Social, Therapeutic and Community Studies) has been awarded funding for ‘When We Were Young… Now We Are Young’, a workshop series bringing together young black people involved in campaigning in Lewisham now, and older adults who campaigned when they were younger. 

This collaboration with the Lewisham Young Mayor Programme aims to help young people understand the role of voice, choice and agency, and how collective organisation is possible and achievable. 

Professor Les Back (Department of Sociology) will lead the creation of a filmed video archive with people who attended the first Black People’s Day of Action in March 1981 and demanded justice for the community following the New Cross Fire. 

A dozen local residents who attended the '13 Dead, Nothing Said' exhibition at Goldsmiths in 2017 and gave their memories of the events will take part in this collaboration with Professor Back, colleagues, students, and filmmaker Nacheal Catnott. 

Dr Hannah Elias, Dr Christienna Fryar, Dr Tara Povey and Dr Justin Bengry (Department of History) have been awarded funding for two projects, one focused on oral history and the other in developing local black history research and teaching in schools. 

A series of oral history workshops focusing on remembering the New Cross Fire and Black People’s Day of Action aims to gather memories of lived experience and preserve them for the future in collaboration with the George Padmore Institute (GPI). Some recordings will form part of a free digital resource that can be used by teachers, students and researchers. 

Following research by the Runnymede Trust which found that many school history teachers want to teach more black history but lack the resources or training to do so with confidence, final year Goldsmiths history students will work with Lewisham schools to create learning packs and toolkits. An exhibition - online or in person at Lewisham’s new Migration Museum - will also be created on local black history.

Alongside local teachers and pupils, this project will involve black and minority ethnic public history professionals working for Decolonising The Archive (DTA), the Migration Museum, and online groups such as Layers of London. 

Dr Janna Graham (Department of Visual Cultures) has been awarded funding toward a ‘scan-a-thon’ and other events with the Deptford People’s Museum between February - March 2021, which link legacies of the transatlantic slave trade to the New Cross Fire, Black People’s Day of Action, and ongoing black struggle in Deptford.

Residents are encouraged to bring along memories, materials, and their families for the project, which is led by Kenneth Thomas and Joyce Jacca at the community resource centre on the Pepys Estate. The project will involve members of the Department of Visual Cultures, including Dr Jorella Andrews, who will stage a labyrinth workshop to assemble historical materials. Dr Graham’s research on anti-racism in museums, galleries and community settings will support the collection-building and narration aspects of the scan-a-thon, and students on the BA Curating will help build a permanent resource for the community.

Head of the MA Radio, Richard Shannon (Department of Media, Communications and Cultural Studies), with Decolonising The Archive and Colourful Radio, will hold a series of workshops on writing for audio, aimed at Lewisham’s black community. Taking place in community settings, the classes will involve writing and production exercises and prepare participants to enter an open competition to write an audio piece for podcasting. One of the UK’s leading black writers, Roy Williams, will chair the judging panel. 

Read more about the 2021 Public Engagement projects

Find out more about Public Engagement at Goldsmiths