by SHALINA PATEL
AS YOU will have seen from my column so far, I have been bringing you tales of historical figures of south Asian heritage. While looking at my calendar recently, I realised the birth anniversary of fellow teacher Blair Peach (March 25, 1946-April 24, 1979) was earlier this month.
Now while Peach was, of course, not a man of south Asian heritage, he was an invaluable ally to this community, and for that he paid the ultimate price.
Peach had been active in many campaigns against neo-Nazi and other far-right groups. For example, he led a successful campaign to close a National Front building in the middle of the Bangladeshi community around Brick Lane in London. He was also cautioned in 1974 for challenging a pub landlord who was refusing to serve black customers.
On April 23, 1979, while the National Front held a meeting in Southall, Peach was among approximately 3,000 who attended an anti-Nazi League rally. As the demonstration turned violent and he attempted to get away from it, Peach was hit on the head by a police officer and died from his injuries later that night.
His death was a tragic loss not only for his family, but also for those communities to whom he had given his support through his anti-racist activism over several years. His funeral in June 1979 was attended by about 10,000 people and his coffin was carried by members of the local south Asian community.
Peach’s body lay in the Dominion Cinema in Southall so people could pay their respects before the funeral, and those images have really stayed with me. It is estimated that more than 8,000 people opted to do so, a reflection of what he meant to the local community and beyond.
An internal inquiry concluded that one of six officers had killed Peach, but the investigator could not be sure who exactly was responsible, because the officers colluded to cover up the truth.
Peach dedicated his life to standing up to racism, something that the NUT [National Union of Teachers] celebrates through its annual Blair Peach award. The award is given to individual NUT members or groups of members who have made significant and exemplary contributions to LGBT+, race, gender, and/or disability equality in their school or division.
What the life of Peach teaches us is that in an increasingly divided world, we must be good to each other. Peach was the very definition of an anti-racist activist and ally.
Shalina Patel is the head of teaching and learning in a large comprehensive school in north-west London. Patel runs the History Corridor on Instagram, which has more than 15,000 followers and showcases the diverse history that she teaches. She has delivered training to more than 200 school leaders since July 2020 on decolonising the curriculum. Patel won the Pearson Silver Teaching Award 2018 for Teacher of the Year in a Secondary School.