Skip to content

Battle For Brick Lane, 1978

June 9, 2022
by the gentle author

Click here to book THE GENTLE AUTHOR’S TOURS for June & July

The march behind Altab Ali’s coffin from Whitechapel to Hyde Park, 14th May 1978

A new exhibition opens tomorrow of Paul Trevor‘s photography documenting the rise of protest in the East End after the racist murder of Altab Ali in 1978. This is the culmination of an oral history project to gather testimonies of participants as a complement to the photographs. We publish excerpts from some of these interviews below.

BRICK LANE 1978, THE TURNING POINT runs at Four Corners until 10th September

Anti-Racist Committee of Asians in East London, Commercial Rd June 1976

Anti-Racist Committee of Asians in East London, Whitechapel Rd June 1976

‘Every time there was a lot of people get beaten up… At that time people after six o’clock, nobody goes out from home, everybody from work once they come in they stay in, they don’t go out at all. They’re scared and all these things. Then I and a few others from the anti-racist committee go around in the evening looking for this and that. We go out patrolling wherever the Bengali people live and that’s what we used to do.’

Mohammed Gulan Ehiya (nickname ‘Khasru) – He is in the photograph wearing a checked suit

Sit down protest outside Bethnal Green Rd Police Station, 17th July 1978

‘This is something that I need to say, that a lot of our friends were arrested instead of racist people. You know our community were arrested, a lot of our Anti-Nazi League friends were arrested, a lot of Bangladeshi friends. I was not arrested, but my friends were arrested a few times. And we went to the magistrate’s court outside trying to get them released without any charge. And this is something that, you know, will reflect you on your history that you know, police were not very friendly to the Bangladeshi community for some reason, I don’t know. Is it perhaps I must say this was part of institutionalised racism and this is where I think the thugs, you know the National Front, felt proud that institutions like the police were supporting them.’

Syed Mizan

Bangladesh Youth Movement Against Racism, Brick Lane 17th July 1978

Brick Lane, September 1978

Hackney & Tower Hamlets Defence Committee Ant-Nazi League, 20th August 1978

‘It was very frightening to be very honest. My father warned me to be cautious of my safety because of the attacks on the streets of East London. People were mostly attacked at night. They were found walking alone coming or going to work because my father says to be careful about the skinheads, the racial abuse, these sort of things they do, you know.’

Jamal Miah – Jamal is the central figure in this photograph

Rally in Hyde Park by the Action Committee Against Racial Attacks after the march of Altab Ali’s coffin from Whitechapel, 14th May 1978

‘The day Altab Ali was murdered, I was in Brick Lane, and somebody says ‘There’s fighting going on the other side of Brick Lane’. I was at one of my friend’s factories. We see some fascists. So we run and, and we went near the park. I seen a lot of people and the police and the ambulance is there. And I didn’t know Altab Ali, I seen he was lying on the floor. And you know, he died at that point. We only watch his body lying on the ground surrounded by police. Well, it could have been me. I’ve been attacked twice on the street. Thank God and I’m alive. You know?’

Jamal Miah

Altab Ali’s coffin departs from Hyde Park to Downing St, 14th May 1978

St Mary’s Park (now Altab Ali Park), Whitechapel Rd

‘I think it was on a Sunday, one of the Sundays but I’m not sure and it was raining and then very muddy. Raining, because I got wet. And I don’t use the umbrella that I used to have. When I came to this country I used to use an umbrella. On days when snowing, raining I don’t know how many umbrellas I lost and all the things that then I give up, like using an umbrella.’ 

Mohammed Gulan Ehiya remembering after the march to Downing St

Photographs copyright © Paul Trevor

You may also like to look at

East End Women Protest

Julie Begum on Brick Lane

4 Responses leave one →
  1. Marcia Howard permalink
    June 9, 2022

    A moving account, but a shameful story about how immigrants have been treated over the years.

  2. June 9, 2022

    I have now taken out my travel diary: 1978 — the year in which I first set foot on British ground. I reached London from the south via the suburbs of Bromley and Beckenham, where David Bowie once lived.

    It was Monday, 24 July 1978 at 2.37 pm when I crossed Tower Bridge. One destination was the shop “Musique Boutique” in Shaftesbury Ave, which had already sent me music books to Germany.

    I spent my first night in London at 14 Penywern Rd, a student hotel at the time. The East End protests were distant and invisible there, though.

    Afterwards I continued my journey and went around the whole British Isle. I was on the road for six weeks and travelled 6,500 kilometres. A wonderful, unforgettable time!

    Love & Peace

  3. June 9, 2022

    Thank you dear friend for highlighting the the stories and voices behind these photographs, many of the people featured came to the private view tonight at four corners and it’s very moving to share the launch of the exhibition with them this evening.

  4. Saba permalink
    June 9, 2022

    Bless these people! I just watched a fictitious USA Public Broadcasting series called Ridley Road — I believe that it was made in England — about the fascists on the East End and their campaigns against the Jews. So heartbreaking and it never ends.

Leave a Reply

Note: Comments may be edited. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS