On this day in history : 30th April 1963 – Residents of Bristol begin a two month boycott of bus travel with the Bristol Omnibus Company, after its refusal to employ Black or Asian bus crews….
During the early 1960s racial discrimination was widespread across the UK…. At this time it is estimated some 3,000 West Indian people were living in Bristol, some having recently arrived, whereas others had been living in the area for years and many had served for the country during World War 2…. However, this did not make them exempt from the discrimination that many faced on a daily basis….
Four young West Indian men, Roy Hackett, Owen Henry, Audley Evans and Prince Brown, decided to do something about this and they set up an action group – which was later to be called the West Indian Development Council….
Owen Henry was to meet Paul Stephenson, a social worker with a West African father…. With his education and the field he worked in Stephenson was a natural choice to act as spokesman for the group…. Unemployment amongst the Black population of Bristol was much higher than that of the White…. 5% unemployment as opposed to just over 2%…. Many companies were reluctant to employ non-white people – it was perfectly legal in 1963 to refuse a person a job on account of their ethnicity…. It was suspected that the Bristol Omnibus Company was one such employer…. It was decided to set up a test case to prove the company had a colour bar….
Paul Stephenson arranged a job interview as a bus conductor for a young warehouseman and Boys’ Brigade Officer called Guy Bailey, for the 27th of March 1963…. Bailey arrived at the appointed time, dressed smartly in his best suit and introduced himself to the receptionist and explained his reason for being there…. To which she replied “I don’t think so”…. He politely pointed out that she was mistaken and that his name was Mr Bailey and could she please check again…. After a brief conversation with her manager she came back and said all the vacancies were full….
It wouldn’t have made any difference if all the positions were vacant – Bailey would have been denied a job anyway – all because of the colour of his skin…. The action group decided to trigger a boycott of the bus company – inspired by the Montgomery Bus Boycott in the United States in 1955, when Rosa Parks refused to relinquish her seat when ordered to do so by the bus driver….
The action was announced in the Press on the 29th of April – and the following day none of Bristol’s West Indians used the buses and they were supported by a good proportion of the white population…. The action escalated; Bristol University students held protest marches to the bus station and to the headquarters of the Transport and General Workers’ Union (TGWU)…. Politicians became involved – condemning the bus company…. The TGWU refused to meet with the West Indian Development Council and a bitter war of words broke out in the Press….
Eventually the Bishop of Bristol and representatives of the local Labour Party stepped in independently of the West Indian Development Council and negotiated with the Union…. A further meeting was held between the Lord Mayor of Bristol and Frank Cousins, leader of the TGWU – and talks began with the parent company of Bristol Omnibus – Transport Holding Company…. After several months of talking finally on the 27th of August it was agreed to lift the colour bar….and on the 28th it was announced there would be no more discrimination…. On the 17th of September 1963 Raghbir Singh, a Sikh, became Bristol’s first non-white bus conductor…. The 1965 and 1968 Race Relations Acts were later passed by the UK Parliament…. In 2009 Stephenson, Bailey and Hackett were awarded OBEs for their parts in organising the bus boycott….