Anti-racists and anti-fascists gathered in south east London last weekend to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Battle of Lewisham.
They remembered the day in 1977 when thousands of people took to the streets to confront the Nazi National Front (NF) as they attempted to march through Lewisham.
Around 100 people came to a march and rally organised by Unite Against Fascism (UAF) at Clifton Rise—the site of the confrontation—last Saturday.
Paul Holborow, who as a Socialist Workers Party organiser helped plan the 1977 demo, paid tribute to the local people and socialists who united against the Nazis.
“The Afro-Caribbean community along with socialists taught the Nazis a lesson from which they found it very hard to recover,” he said.
And John Lockwood, the only person to be jailed as a result of the battle, said it “showed it was possible to go beyond protesting and opposing the fascists, and deny them the streets.”
Labour MP Dawn Butler said the lesson from Lewisham was that “It’s important that we never take our eyes off justice and equality.”
Lewisham councillor Brenda Dacres said we should remember 1977 “to tell our children so that they know and that they stand up”.
Other speakers included Jeff Sheen from the RMT union, NUS president Shakira Martin and Cathy Pound from Searchlight magazine.
A plaque from Lewisham council was unveiled at the site on Sunday, remembering how “thousands united here against racism and fascism”.
And the commemorations continued with two Love Music Hate Racism (LMHR) concerts over the weekend.
There was also a day of celebration and discussion in Deptford, not far from the major events of the battle, which was supported by Goldsmiths College, Lewisham Council and LMHR.
A panel discussion saw people who were there on the day share their experiences. Jo Lang remembered the moment when anti-fascists gathered in the town centre after holding off the NF.
“It felt like those streets were my streets,” she said. “There were no cops there, just loads of people smiling at each other because the NF weren’t there.”
Others remembered the toxic atmosphere of racism whipped up by cops and racists. Dennis, speaking from the floor, pointed out that, “In 1977 it wasn’t safe for a black man to walk the street. You couldn’t walk through parts of Lewisham.”
And Harold Wilson, who was a schoolboy in the area at the time, remembered, “There was fear at the time. Genuine fear. But with the Nazis defeated at Clifton Rise it just got that bit easier”.
Another discussion on Rock Against Racism (RAR) remembered the role that music and concerts played in the fight against racism.
The panel included RAR organiser Roger Huddle, Rhoda Dakar from ska band the Bodysnatchers and writer and activist Hassan Mahamdallie.
Many speakers said the point of remembering Lewisham was to learn lessons to help in the fight against racism and fascism today.
Speaking at the march on Saturday, Imam Shakeel Begg from Lewisham Islamic Centre vowed that if Nazis tried to march through Lewisham again, “We are a strong, united community who will take them on.”
And Weyman Bennett from Stand Up To Racism and joint secretary of UAF said, “The NF didn’t go because they wanted to go—we smashed them.
“We can defeat racists and fascists if we understand what Lewisham meant”.