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30 years of conflict revealed show how activists changed the East End for ever

PUBLISHED: 12:02 04 September 2019 | UPDATED: 12:23 04 September 2019

1978... Battle for Brick Lane following Altab Ali's murder in Whitdchapel. Picture: Azad Konor

1978... Battle for Brick Lane following Altab Ali's murder in Whitdchapel. Picture: Azad Konor

Azad Konor

Secrets of how activists organised protests in the East End over 30 years of conflict are being unravelled at a public exhibition about street battles, racist murder and schoolchildren going on strike.

1978... Asian youths march through Brick Lane following racist murder of textile worker Altab Ali. Picrture: Paul Trevor1978... Asian youths march through Brick Lane following racist murder of textile worker Altab Ali. Picrture: Paul Trevor

The "unite and resist" display being staged at Tower Hamlets Local History Library in Mile End explores activist movements from 1970 to 2000.

It brings to light conflicts like the 1978 Battle of Brick Lane, following the murder of textile worker Altab Ali in Whitechapel.

The decade began with pupils staging a walk-out at Sir John Cass Secondary over the sacking of teacher Chris Searle for publishing their poems on life in Stepney, which led to a protest rally in Trafalgar Square.

1970... Pupils from Sir John Cass march to Trafalgar Square rally protesting at sacking of Stepney teacher Chris Searle. Picture: Tower Hamlets Archive1970... Pupils from Sir John Cass march to Trafalgar Square rally protesting at sacking of Stepney teacher Chris Searle. Picture: Tower Hamlets Archive

"We have a long history here in the East End of taking a stand against all forms of hate and intolerance," mayor John Biggs said.

"This exhibition reminds us about continuing to make sure there is no place for hate."

Original archive collections include banners, badges, garments, posters, photographs, pamphlets and other campaign materials.

1970...How the press reported sacking of Stepney school teacher Chris Searle. Picrture: Tower Hamlets Archive1970...How the press reported sacking of Stepney school teacher Chris Searle. Picrture: Tower Hamlets Archive

The three decades up to the end of the 20th century had huge political, economic and social shifts, with communities moving out and others moving in.

Buildings left derelict were often occupied by squatters, some razed, repaired or remade, all documented in the archive collections at the history library in Bancroft Road.

But conflict in the East End goes back well before the last three decades up to 1999.

1936... East End unites to stop Mosley's Blackshirt fascists marching through Whitechapel at Gardiner's Corner. A tram is used to block the march (far left). Picture: Tower Hamlets Archive1936... East End unites to stop Mosley's Blackshirt fascists marching through Whitechapel at Gardiner's Corner. A tram is used to block the march (far left). Picture: Tower Hamlets Archive

Most notorious was the 1936 Battle of Cable Street that stopped Mosley's blackshirt fascists marching through a predominantly Jewish Whitechapel, where 200,000 protesters blocked the main road at Gardner's Corner. The mass protest switched to Cable Street when police diverted the fascist march which was eventually turned back after demonstrators erected barricades.

Other early conflicts include the 1921 rates strike when Poplar borough councillors were jailed in a campaign led by the mayor George Lansbury against the poor being charged the same flat rate local tax as wealthy parts of London.

Another was Sylvia Pankhurst's radical Suffragette movement she set up at Bow in 1912.

Banner from 1970s on show at 'Unite and Resist' exhibition. Picture: Tower Hamlets ArchiveBanner from 1970s on show at 'Unite and Resist' exhibition. Picture: Tower Hamlets Archive

The exhibition focusing on three decades of protest runs until February 15.

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