Story of the Bristol Bus Boycott taken from the learning materials created by Lillieth Morrison about Memoirs of a Black Englishman by Paul Stephenson OBE.
In April 1963 Bristol Omnibus Company (BOC) did not employ any black staff on the buses. At the time there were no laws against racial discrimination.
A young man called Guy Bailey came to England from Jamaica. Guy lived in Bristol and thought it was unfair that black people were not allowed to work on the buses. Paul Stephenson, a British black youth worker in Bristol checked that there were jobs on the buses and that the qualifications that Guy had were good enough. Paul who spoke with an English accent rang the bus company to arrange an interview for Guy. When the Bristol Omnibus Company realised Guy was black they cancelled the interview.
Paul Stephenson went to see Ian Patey, the General Manager of BOC. He confirmed that they did not employ black staff on the buses. Ian Patey’s reasons for not employing black people were that white workers would not work with black people. He claimed that it would drive wages down.
When Guy Bailey was refused an interview for a job working as a conductor on the buses in 1963, this sparked off the now famous Bristol Bus Boycott Campaign. Paul Stephenson, Guy Bailey, Henry Owen, Roy Hackett and others organised people in Bristol to boycott the buses. They contacted journalists on the Bristol Evening Post, national papers, Caribbean papers like The Gleaner and the West Indian Gazette. Many articles and TV interviews were produced. The African-Caribbean community, local MP Tony Benn, students, white Bristolians and others boycotted the buses by walking or travelling by bike. They also marched with banners to protest. One of the Law students at Bristol University was Paul Boateng who later in life was one of the first black MPs and a member of the Cabinet. Local and national politicians got involved. The BOC and the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) talked for months.
Through the support of the local African-Caribbean community, Bristol University students, Bristol East MP Tony Benn, Harold Wilson then leader of the Opposition and especially High commissioners from Trinidad and Jamaica, the Bristol Omnibus Company was forced to employ black conductors and drivers. Finally, in August 1963, the same day that Martin Luther King made his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech to thousands of people in Washington Square, the Bristol Omnibus Company agreed to employ black staff.
Because of the Bristol Bus Boycott, Harold Wilson passed the first Race Relations Act in 1965. The 1965 Race Relations Act only made it illegal to discriminate against black people in public places. The 1976 Race Act went further and black people had to be treated fairly in housing, jobs, services, training and education.
A Sikh man called Raghbir Singh was the first black person to work on the buses in Bristol. A few days later Norman Samuels and Norris Edwards from Jamaica and Muhammad Raschid and Abbas Ali from Pakistan joined Ragbir Singh as black conductors on the Bristol buses.