The Bus Boycott
Bristol in the early 1960s had around 7,000 residents of West Indian origin. Most experienced discrimination regarding housing and employment, and some encountered violence from the "Teddy Boy" gangs.
Racism was rife in Bristol during this time, and it seemed that everywhere Black people turned, there was some form of discrimination to face.
“In those years, it (racism) was rampant! It was wild! You couldn’t move one way without facing racism. Black people couldn’t get a job in Bristol because of racial prejudice. We used to call it ‘the colour bar’” .
At the time the general public was against hiring Black people in any real significance or even allowing Black people to rent residential places! If a Black person at the time was able to buy a house then there would be an uproar in the neighbourhood. Mr. Roy Hackett was one of these people who had experienced such a welcome. As there was no law prohibiting this discrimination, employers and landlords/ladies were free to do as they pleased.
The work of Mr Roy Hackett, Paul Stephenson, Audley Evans and Prince Brown aimed to address this discrimination head on. They focussed on a particular sector; public transport.
The Bristol Omnibus Company was one of Bristol's most dominant bus operators. In the events leading up to the Bus Boycott, the Omnibus Company refused to employ coloured people on their buses.
During this time, there was a significant level of employment shortage when it came to bus drivers. There were many advertisements in the local newspapers calling for drivers to apply and work for the Bristol Omnibus Company - however, this only applied to white men. Ian Patey, general manager of the Omnibus company at the time went on record saying:
“The advent of coloured crews would mean a gradual falling off of white staff. It is true that London Transport employ a large coloured staff. They even have recruiting offices in Jamaica and they subsidise the fares to Britain of their new coloured employees. As a result of this, the amount of white labour dwindles steadily on the London Underground. You won’t get a white man in London to admit it, but which of them will join a service where they may find themselves working under a coloured foreman? … I understand that in London, coloured men have become arrogant and rude, after they have been employed for some months.”
Paul Stevenson set up an interview with the manager of the bus company for his friend Guy Bailey. Bailey is granted an interview on account of his name and at this point, the bus company did not know that he was black. Stephenson then phoned back to tell them Bailey was West Indian and the interview is promptly cancelled.
After this response, Paul Stephenson, Roy Hackett, Audley Evans and Prince Brown banded together in order to organize and plan a city-wide bus boycott which was announced on the 29th of April 1963 in Paul’s own home in front of the media. The boycott began on the 30th of April 1963. The tactics mirrored the boycotts which were occurring overseas through the likes of Martin Luther King, Jesse Jackson and Nelson Mandela. The boycott was calling on everyone to stop journeying on the bus services, opting instead to walk. Campaigners were often seen getting onto buses with leaflets with information about the boycott and encouraging people to leave. Other methods were also used such as standing or sitting in the road, causing the buses to halt their journey. This riled a few Bristolians to say the least...
“Say if this does go through.. Then there won’t be enough work for the whites let alone the blacks. We got enough of a hard job now to get a working wage. If we don’t get our bit of overtime we cant live and if they come on they’ll work all the hour’s God gives them”
“While we can obtain white labor in this city we intend to go on engaging white labor rather than colored labor”
“This is and always has been a white man’s country. Therefore I am sick of the arrogant attitude of the colored people in this country. There is a problem with unemployment at present and if colored people are employed on public transport I will walk before I use them”
There were however some very important allies involved in supporting the Boycott:
One important ally was Sir Learie Constantine. Learie was a high profile cricketer and at the time of the Boycott was the High Comissioner of Trinidad and Tobago. He joined in with supporting the boycott and actively opposed the colour bar. He wrote to the Bristol Omnibus Company about their refusal to have Black crews and he dispatched an official to Bristol to make informal enquiries into the pursuit. His contribution to the Boycott was essential.
Local Labor MP Tony Benn also joined in with supporting the Boycott and employment reform and involved labour leader at the time, Harold Wilson.
On the 28th of August 1963, the bus company withdrew and this marked the end of the color bar on the Bristol omnibus bus services. As a result of the Boycott campaign, on the 17th of September 1963 , Ragbhir Sing, A Sikh man became the first non white bus conductor. A few days later two Jamaican men (Norman Samuels and Norris Edwards) and two Pakistani men (Mohammed Raschid and Abbas Ali) joined him.
In addition to this, in 1965 parliament passed the race relations act which made racial discrimination unlawful in public spaces. This was followed by the 1968 act which extended the provisions to housing and employment. Many say that the Bus Boycott was instrumental in influencing this decision.
“I always tell the kids in the primary schools, I say ‘ we had to do that to bring you up!’ never forget your roots, keep fighting and never give up because young people today, well they are tomorrow’s people” - Roy Hackett
Thank you Mr Stephenson, Mr Hackett, Mr Evans and Mr Brown for your efforts in fighting the system. We appreciate you greatly.
The Key Members
MR PAUL STEPHENSON
Paul Stephenson is one of Bristol and the UK's most notable civil rights campaigners. His work with the Boycott is what most people know him for, but his life work is truly expansive. He established the West Indian Development Commitee (WIDC), has worked for the Commission of Racial Equality , worked with legends like Muhammad Ali and helped set up the Bristol Black Archives Partnership (amongst many, many, other things!!). In 2009 he was awarded an OBE and is a Freeman of the City of Bristol.
MR ROY HACKETT
Roy Hackett was a founder member of the Commonwealth Co-Ordinated Committee (CCC) which was later renamed West Indian Parents and Friends Association (WIPFA), which was set up to voice concerns to the local authorities whilst also creating a network of support for people in the community. This Association set up St. Pauls Carnival. Roy is still active today in Bristol and is a member of the St Werburghs Community Centre.
MR OWEN HENRY
Owen Henry was also a co-founder of the CCC as well as being a major driving force behind the development of St Pauls Carnival. His contribution to the City of Bristol will always be appreciated and valued.
MR AUDELY EVANS
Audley Evans was a skilled engineer who's campaign work with the Boycott left a lasting impression on Bristol. He moved to Canada , Chicago and eventually Florida where he settled with his family.
MR PRINCE BROWN
Not much is documented about Prince Brown after the Boycott, but without him, the Boycott could not have succeeded. His contribution to the City of Bristol will always be appreciated and valued.
How would you respond to being denied a job based on the colour of your skin?
Based on what we have covered up until this point, are you surprised to see this level of racism in Bristol as recent as sixty years ago?
Do you think racism still exists in the workplace today? If so, in what ways?
If you could tell someone close to you one thing about what you have learned here, what would it be and why?
The Boycott was one of the most important events in the history of Bristol. It was one of first examples of a collective resistance against white supremacy and institutional racism. It set the tone for future examples of resistance that also challenged the system extensively. Without the Boycott, who knows what kind of Bristol we would live in today?
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Has this section peaked your interest?
Here are some other areas you may wish to investigate relating to Bristol , The UK and the Civil Rights Movement around the time of the Bus Boycott.
The Teddy Boys
The West Indian Parents and Friends Association
Commonwealth Co-ordinated Committee
Martin Luther King Jr
The Organisation of African American Unity
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