Forty years after the confrontation between fascists and anti-racists in South London, protestors remembered the momentous event and pledged to continue the fight against racism
On Sunday, a commemorative plaque was unveiled on Clifton Rise in Lewisham, where exactly 40 years ago a fierce battle was raging.
In August 1977, a racist demonstration led by the fascist National Front attempted to march through an area of Lewisham South East London with a large black population. The Nazis had been on the rise electorally, they had collected a 100,000 votes in the Greater London Council elections of that year and had only narrowly failed to win in the Lewisham ward of Deptford due to a split in the their own ranks.
Despite this outrageous provocation the march was actually the beginning of the end for the NF. Anti-racist and socialist groups organised with local people, black and white, to stop the racists. Violent confrontations ensued, a massive police presence using riot shields for the first time on mainland UK endeavoured to protect the NF. The march though was broken up and the NF left bruised and battered.
This was pivotal moment in race relations in this country and led directly to the formation of the Anti Nazi League, who alongside Rock Against Racism and others helped steer large numbers of white youths away from racism. At the same time they encouraged black people to both fight for their rights, but also begin to feel more accepted in what was previously a more overtly racist environment.
It is a testament both to how much has changed in Britain since 1977 and the enduring importance of the legacy of the Battle of Lewisham that a series of events, a march and exhibition have taken place this week.
Speakers at the unveiling of the plaque, which was witnessed by several hundred people, were quick to draw parallels with the shocking events occurring in Charlottesville in the USA.
Labour councillor Joan Millbank commented that ‘whilst we won the battle with the racists in 1977, the war is not won.’
Poet Mark ‘Mr T’ Thompson performed a powerful rendition of his poem celebrating the Battle of Lewisham: ‘As one our people made it clear, intolerants, listen up, you are not welcome here!‘
John Rees, who was a young participant in 1977, talked of he need to be organised and resist racism in all its forms, but also said that ‘the fight is never done while poverty and exploitation breed racism and crisis’.
Goldsmiths, University of London, is leading a series of events to remember the Battle of Lewisham.