The Bristol Bus Boycott is an under-remembered historical event which took place in May 1963, as a protest against the refusal of the Bristol Omnibus Company to employ Black and South Asian drivers and conductors on its buses.
It was led by Paul Stephenson and a group of young people from the West Indies who named themselves the West Indian Development Council. Inspired by the achievements of Dr Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks in the US, the 60-day boycott proved a vital catalyst for change in the UK – ushering in the 1965 Race Relations Act.
During the boycott individuals and organisations didn’t always align with the side you might expect. The West Indian Development Council were joined by white students from Bristol University and prominent figures like Harold Wilson and Learie Constantine – the High Commissioner for Trinidad and Tobago. Opposing the boycott, alongside the Omnibus Company, was the Transport and General Workers Union – even though the Union had been vocal in its opposition to Apartheid in South Africa. (The Bristol Omnibus Company ceased operation in 1987).
Even the visiting West Indian Cricket Team refused to get involved as they believed that sport and politics should not mix. Ultimately the boycott was successful and, on August 28th – the same day that Dr King delivered his infamous “I have dream speech”, the colour bar was lifted. On September 17th that year Raghbir Singh, an Indian-born Sikh became the first Global Majority conductor on a bus in Bristol. A few days later two Jamaican and two Pakistani men joined him.
If you are interested to learn more about the Bristol Bus Boycott, click on the button below to read ‘Black and White on the Busses’ by Madge Dresser (Hon. Research Fellow, University of the West of England – Bristol UK).
Photo © Ahsen Sayeed