Twenty-three years ago, almost to the day, 13 young blacks perished in an inferno that engulfed a terraced house on New Cross Road in south London. Scores of Yvonne Ruddock's schoolfriends and friends of friends attended her birthday party at the family home.
At first Mrs Ruddock, Yvonne's mother, was not keen on the party, but she relented after some persuasion. West Indian parties were then under attack. A West Midlands Tory MP had bellowed that such parties were noisy and should be banned. The far right had joined the campaign. That was the atmosphere of the moment. But nobody paid much attention to this, even though, according to the first reports of the fire, two white men were seen running away from the premises and a canister was found outside the front window.
I was then editing the monthly journal Race Today, which was based in Brixton. The day after the tragedy, I was at a meeting with the Black Parents Movement and the Black Student Movement. We appointed a delegation that headed for Lewisham and met Mrs Ruddock.
The response on the days and weeks that followed was electric. Crowds converged on a youth club in Deptford and a "parliament" was established, with sessions held once a week. Black and white organisations attended. We all suspected that a racial attack had caused the fire. We voted for a mass national demonstration, which we named the Black People's Day of Action. I was elected to be the organiser.
Contributions from the black community paid all the funeral expenses and also for my travel to organise the demonstration. Not that I had much organising to do, except deal with the logistics of getting protesters from the north and Midlands to London. The black community, after years of injustice, didn't need much persuading to take to the streets. Thousands converged on London on a weekday, and it is still the biggest demonstration of blacks that Britain has ever seen. The main slogan was: "Thirteen dead and nothing said." Within weeks there were riots in every black community in the country.
The inquest ended in an open verdict. The parents were dissatisfied with the results and have at last won a second inquest, which begins on 2 February. I will keep my eye on the ball, and I hope that others who have benefited materially from the revolt of the early months of 1981 will do the same.