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Vron Ware
The Black People's Day of Action, 1981

Capturing a defiant show of solidarity in response to the tragic loss of young black lives

ABOUT THE artwork

Writer, photojournalist and academic Vron Ware documented the Black People’s Day of Action on 2 March 1981. The images bear witness to an historic moment of community organising and resistance in post-war Britain. In the early hours of Sunday 18 January 1981, a fire broke out at birthday party taking place on 439 New Cross Road, resulting in the deaths of 13 young black Londoners - including Owen Wesley Thomas, commemorated here. One survivor died nearly two years later, bringing the total loss of life to 14.

In the face of a hostile media indifferent to this tragic loss of young black lives, 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.

Ware’s photographs document this historic occasion in vivid detail, capturing the defiant solidarity of those taking part. 

about the artist

Vron Ware

Vron Ware is a writer and photographer. She has worked with Autograph to archive a large collection of images that capture the spirit of anti-racist and anti-fascist resistance from 1997 to 1983. She also writes about gender, race, the social construction of whiteness, national identity, ecology, militarism and the cultural heritage of war.

Her books include Beyond the Pale: white women, racism and history (Verso 1992/2015); Out of Whiteness: color, politics and culture (Chicago 2002), co-authored with Les Back; and Military Migrants: Fighting for YOUR Country (Palgrave 2012). Her most recent book, Return of a Native: Learning from the Land, addresses the colonial politics of the English countryside and was published by Repeater Books in March 2022.

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This photograph is in Autograph's permanent collection of photography, where it has been conserved and digitised


This work has featured in exhibitions at institutions including Tate Britain and Goldsmiths, University of London



This work was displayed publicly for the first time as part of Autograph's collaboration with Goldsmiths in 2017

related content

13 Dead, Nothing Said

A short film featuring an interview with the artist, Vron Ware, produced to coincide with an exhibition at Goldsmiths, University of London, using photographs from Autograph's collection. 

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Images on page: Vron Ware, Black People's Day of Action, 2 March (1981) © Vron Ware/Courtesy of Autograph, London. Purchased by Autograph with support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund in 2016.

Other images on page: Photo of Vron Ware.